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Ralph Ellison: A Biography

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  168 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
Ralph Ellison is justly celebrated for his epochal novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953 and has become a classic of American literature. But Ellison’s strange inability to finish a second novel, despite his dogged efforts and soaring prestige, made him a supremely enigmatic figure. Arnold Rampersad skillfully tells the story of a writer whose thun ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Vintage (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30)
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Charles Matthews
Dec 18, 2009 Charles Matthews rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Confronted with something as messy and complicated as a human life, a biographer can too easily fall into the trap of simplification, seizing on one prominent aspect of the subject’s character and history, the way a caricaturist turns a potato nose or jug ears into the dominant feature in a cartoon. On the other hand, if the life surveyed is long enough and complex enough, the biographer may be tempted just to report the incidents and events and let the reader do the hard work of shaping them in ...more
Aberjhani
Jul 26, 2007 Aberjhani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of literary biography and every voting age adult in the USA.
Recommended to Aberjhani by: A friend.
THE ENIGMATIC GENIUS OF RALPH ELLISON

Invisible Man, Shadow and Act, and Going to the Territory, all books by that quintessential twentieth century literary artist Ralph Waldo Ellison, remain towering masterworks of American literature for their penetrating explorations of racial identity, cultural complexity, and historical consequences in the United States. With Senator Barack Obama’s historic bid for the White House evolving daily into the possibility of an historic win, Ellison’s brilliantly
...more
SassieFrassie
Oct 28, 2009 SassieFrassie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, writing
The publication of INVISIBLE MAN bisects this biography. Those pages that recount Ellison's life before 1952 are fascinating; the book is a real page-turner in the early chapters. After recounting the publication of Ellison's masterpiece, however, the narrative grows somewhat stale. I do not attribute this flatness to any failing on Rampersad's part (his two-volume biography of Langston Hughes is excellent). Rather, Ellison's social aspirations, his endless awards, his (often token) participatio ...more
Anthony D'Juan Shelton
Feb 25, 2008 Anthony D'Juan Shelton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ellison lovers.
Recommended to Anthony by: Mike Garborini
Perhaps the best biography I've read since Peter Manso's book on Brando (over a thousand pages). The author, Arnold Rapmersad does not let Ellison off the hook by just calling him a genius. He dug into the ugliness of Ellison as well (his selfishness and capacity to be pompous, amongst other things). It almost made me hate Ellison...but it brought me back to life by the end of the book.
John
Oct 05, 2007 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure why just yet, but he reminds me of Fitzgerald. Obviously, both shared the common trait of genius...but I think there's more to it than that...
Jesse
May 16, 2008 Jesse rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vastly researched, this fascinatng biography about a writer who defined African-American Fiction for the last fifty years with the publication of his 1952 novel "Invisible Man" shows how Ellison went from a staunch communist to a strict patriotic individualist who defended the Vietnam War and LBJ's policies. He also helped create the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities as well as help bring about public brodcasting. Yet, even with all his accomplishments, El ...more
Pat aka Tygyr
Feb 04, 2014 Pat aka Tygyr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I went to College in the late 60's - early 70's, "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison was required reading. His novel was about race relations. The different ways people saw blacks vs how they saw whites in society. The book made an impression on me, and when I found this biography I had to read it. From a poor Oklahoma family, to a black college where he felt alone and always in need of money, to New York and his life there, is Ralph Ellison's life story. He never finished college. It wasn't u ...more
Alfred
Jan 29, 2008 Alfred rated it really liked it
Finished this meticulously thorough biography, a finalist for the National Book Award, at 5:54 am this morning. The line describing Ellison's death on page 565, right near the end, made me cry: "On Saturday April 16, with the music of Bach playing softly, and with Fanny snuggled tightly against Ralph on the hospital bed, Callahan saw a single tear roll slowly down his cheek. Then he was gone."

Having been overwhelmed by Ellison's novel, "Invisible Man," in college, I was one of many intrigued by
...more
Dave
Feb 01, 2011 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ellison is one of my favorite writers, and in preparation for my date with destiny (i.e. plunging into Three Days Before the Shooting), I wanted to get an idea of his life beyond what I'd gleaned in my years of studying Invisible Man and his essays. Rampersad doesn't hesitate in presenting the good, the ugly, and the boring. And the boring, I think, is an important component of any trustworthy biography. Most people, including those who merit a professionally authored biography, are not always s ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Arnold Rampersad, professor of English and humanities at Stanford, makes the most of his access to the papers of Ralph Ellison. He sifted through mountains of previously unexamined documents for the details that give readers a glimpse__warts and all__of the man behind Invisible Man. Rampersad's experience with biography runs deep, which explains his ability to give us an honest account of Ellison's life. Ralph Ellison is engaging and far-reaching, if long. It also balances revealing anecdotes ab

...more
John
Dec 21, 2009 John rated it really liked it
Arnold Rampersad is one of the finest biographers around and with this latest portrait he joins the ranks of Leon Edel, Richard Ellmann, and R.W.B Lewis. He is such a nuanced, elegant and detailed writer but the tidbits, and facts, and anecdotes and dates never feel like simply an accretion of information; you never get the sense this is a biographer that fell in love with research and didn’t know when to stop. Like an intricate tapestry or a complex jazz riff, each detail and story plays off, r ...more
Eric
Jan 07, 2008 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-america
This dude wrote one of my top ten favorite books of forever( Invisible Man)! So I was sadden to learn how confused and self hating he was!

This Bio was a great read but utterly sad. A Great reflection of how America can build a Black person up while destroying them at the same time.

Its like Elison wrote Invisible Man and then died, rising to come back to life as the type of Black man that he originally despised so early in his life and that he created in Invisible Man as "college president Dr.
...more
Tishon
Aug 24, 2010 Tishon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of the best biographies I've ever read. Unsentimental, the book avoids mythologizing Ellison. Rather, it shows him in all his triumphs and failures. You'll fall in and out of love with Ellison numerous times throughout the book, which, I think, is a testament to Rampersad's ability to avoid romanticizing his life. Highly recommended.
Frank
Mar 08, 2009 Frank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm teaching Invisible Man this semester again, and I read this book in preparation for doing so. I really enjoyed it. Though some have read this book as an all-out attack on Ellison, I thought that it was pretty fair to him—acknowledging his great achievement and legacy while also casting an unsparing light on his flaws. It will be valuable background for me as I teach the novel.
TKTE
Jan 10, 2008 TKTE rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is what a great biography should do. It's always tough when one of your heroes are brought down so low. But there's always gotta be a reason that pushes someone toward genius, no? Invisible Man is still one of my favorites though.
Babydoll
Feb 16, 2009 Babydoll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Arnold Rampersad has an impressive reputation for creating great works of biographies. He proved his talent with this intriguing and immensely detailed work, capturing the true essence and character of a great American writer.
Ralphe Wiggins
May 28, 2016 Ralphe Wiggins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, black
Fascinating National Book Award winner for his novel Invisible Man. With the assistance of WPA Ellison lifted himself from poverty in Oklahoma City to being the toast of white American power brokers. As he aged while trying to finish his second novel, I could relate to his struggles.
Melissa
Mar 15, 2008 Melissa rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
It was fine. VERY in depth biography. Interesting figure, but I just felt like the story was too long to maintain my attention.
Marcia
Jan 11, 2011 Marcia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Masterful and incredibly well-researched book on Ellison and his times.

At times though, Rampersad seems like he is apologizing for the writer's misogyny, misanthropy and general grumpus-ness!
Sarah
Feb 23, 2008 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It has been hard to stick to this book, although it reads well and is very illuminating, especially concerning the nuances of the social contexts/constructs Ellison grew under.
Sister
Sister rated it liked it
Aug 04, 2009
Lana
Lana rated it really liked it
Dec 29, 2016
Daniel Myatt
Daniel Myatt rated it it was amazing
Jul 27, 2014
Seniece Jetson
Seniece Jetson rated it did not like it
Jul 13, 2014
Rusa Rangal
Rusa Rangal rated it liked it
May 18, 2015
Doris Jacobs
Doris Jacobs rated it it was amazing
Nov 06, 2014
mary a. thomas
mary a. thomas rated it it was amazing
Feb 03, 2017
Darnell Baker
Darnell Baker rated it it was amazing
Dec 17, 2016
Grant
Grant rated it really liked it
Nov 21, 2007
Alyce Rocco
Alyce Rocco rated it it was ok
May 27, 2012
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