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Shadow and Act

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  507 ratings  ·  20 reviews
With the same intellectual incisiveness and supple, stylish prose he brought to his classic novel Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison examines his antecedents and in so doing illuminates the literature, music, and culture of both black and white America.

His range is virtuosic, encompassing Mark Twain and Richard Wright, Mahalia Jackson and Charlie Parker, The Birth of a Nation
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 14th 1995 by Vintage (first published 1964)
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B. P. Rinehart
Ellison's first collection of essays are nothing short of genius. This book really shows and gives a good look at the mind and ideas of the man who created the masterpiece Invisible Man.

This book was what I used to diversify my literary taste. I would not have discovered the likes of Twain, Joyce, Stephen Crane (who's The Red Badge of Courage I need to remember to review, a very good story), Will Faulkner, Herman Melville, and others. He also gives a very thorough account of Richard Wright and
Cara Byrne
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
This collection of critical reviews, interviews, transcripts of speeches, and essays captures Ellison's poetic voice and musical background just as well as that found in his fiction. Organized in 3 sections by theme ("The Seer and the Seen," "Sound and the Mainstream," and "The Shadow and the Act"), Ellison is consistent in his opinions about art, life, and the complex identity of the "Negro American." The most interesting essays for me include "The Way It Is," "Hidden Name and Complex Fate," ...more
An AMAZING collection of essays that articulates Ellison's dilemma for a negotiations of a sort of jazz-writing which: dances between his places as an Afro-American writer, with all the inherent social-political connotation towards which the burden of representation is placed ; also as a modernist (by way of Eliot), who creates a detached aesthetic from which an universal work can be created. I find these essays to be the perfect example of the tension between the political/poetic that is often ...more
Shaimaa Suleiman
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the greatest books I have ever read. Ellison's critical prowess amounts to that of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.

UPDATE: Eliot is in the air.

Turns out the title is an allusion to "The Hollow Men". I read this poem long before reading the book but only recognized the the unmistakable link today with a second reading.

"Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow" -- T.S. Eliot.
Greg Fanoe
Sep 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked the concepts and love Ellison as a writer, but the essays here were just way too repetitive.
Ben Siems
Jul 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
I read several of the essays in this collection for a college course some years ago, but recently decided to embark on the journey of reading the book cover to cover. Most know Ralph Ellison as the author of Invisible Man, that influential masterpiece of mid-twentieth century American fiction (a review of which can be found among my books). Like Harper Lee, Ellison never produced a second novel, though unlike Lee, he spent more than forty years attempting to do so. Few know of Ellison's other ...more
Jake Berlin
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: race, america, essays
the middle section, about music, and primarily jazz, is wonderful, and absolutely worth reading. and ellison is unquestionably a top-notch wordsmith, and a deep thinker. but more than half of the chapters feel like the same ideas recycled over and over, and while they're certainly important -- as statements about race and america, and for when they were written -- after the first few it becomes a bit tiresome.
Jonathan Blanks
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Every once in awhile you come across a book you've never heard of by a writer you admire. Sometimes it's a great find, other times you realize there may have been a reason why you'd never heard of the book. Shadow and Act is a gem of the former variety. It is a wondeful collection of essays on culture, music, and history.

Too many of today's critics scrimp on insight and indulge in invective. Yes, we all like a good takedown of a bad book or argument, but critics should provide more context and
Neal Marcus
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent book;A collection of articles he wrote for magazines about various racial and political issues —adds to”Living with Music “;
This collection of Ellison essays is perfect for anyone wanting to take a closer peak to the inner workings of the genius' mind, the one responsible for Invisible Man. His ability to combine his incisive intellect with poetic imagery, masterful comprehension of American history with political exigency is breathtaking. The only reason I give this 4 stars instead of 5 is because many of the essays are academic/literary critiques of other writers; and so, it's pretty easy to get lost in the reading ...more
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Major Field Prep: 56/133
The title essay in this collection of Ellison's interviews, critical debates, book reviews, and essays, concerns the cinematic manifestation of Negro stereotypes from A Birth of a Nation through early 20th century films. He writes, “In the beginning was not the shadow, but the act, and the province of Hollywood is not action, but illusion.” This sentiment, although places near the very end of the collection, represents his approach to topics of race, art, and critical
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, non-fiction
Fairly evenly split between literature and music, Ralph Ellison's knockout collection of essays had me re-evaluating my views on Faulkner and Twain while also providing introductions to Jimmy Rushing, and the Lafargue Clinic. Though originally published in 1953, his clearheaded examinations of black identity is as elucidating as ever and his adamant eschewal of oversimplification, a reminder of how often we shrink from the rich complexity of things.
Jan 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An insight into the mind of the author of Invisible Man. Ellison is, as always, fascinating. Recommended for anyone who would like to learn more about the man himself, and his opinions about fiction, music and life.
Anthony D'Juan Shelton
Feb 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Anthony by: no one.
2002 was perhaps the year that I did most of my Ellison reading. "Shadow and Act" -- a collection of Ellison's essays on race, jazz, social relevance, and writing -- gave me the insight to one of the greatest essayist next to Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain.
Jamall Andrew
Nov 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Just excellent. I am both highly critical and extremely grateful of this collection of essays. I'm so glad I read this. Just excellent.
Sarah Elizabeth Chitwood
Ellison was a great thinker and by that will continue to be a literary role model.
Jul 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: other
Stimulating collection of essays from the mind who brought us Invisible Man.
Michael Stuart
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
The wisdom of Ralph Ellison. 'Nuff said.
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ralph answered many questions that I had about American writers and literature during the turn of the Century after the Civil War. His prose and role as an historian are much appreciated.
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Ralph Ellison was a scholar and writer. He was born Ralph Waldo Ellison in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, named by his father after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ellison was best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986). For The New York Times , the ...more
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“We look too much to museums. The sun coming up in the morning is enough.” 48 likes
“At best Americans give but a limited attention to history. Too much happens too rapidly, and before we can evaluate it, or exhaust its meaning or pleasure, there is something new to concern us. Ours is the tempo of the motion picture, not that of the still camera, and we waste experience as we wasted the forest.” 7 likes
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