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This volume is strictly for the Ralph Ellison die-hards. The noted author of “Invisible Man” left behind a trail of other writings: brilliant essays, fragments of a would be second novel, and now we have the gift of his letters to others - his wives, other family meme era, literary associates, and friends.
From the letters we can discern many of his motivations while he worked on his classic novel from the 1940s into the early 50s - his mind was on fire with many things - mastering the literary craft including folklore, as well as delving into sociology, psychology and political science. During the war (where he served as a merchant marine) I to the postwar period and the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement - what we now know was the apogee of American might in the world - Ellison stays abreast of the latest cultural theories, while channeling his own power into fiction and letters.
We learn in the letters of his close correspondence and confessions to his colleague Richard Wright, who serves as an early mentor, friend and ultimately a foil for his own masterpiece. We also learn of his correspondence with other important philosopher intellectuals, such as Kenneth Burke. Not surprising to learn of his awareness “of the young author Jean Paul Sartre” as his novel combines the surrealist and existential energies, as set in Harlem between the wars.
From the letters we learn of many autobiographical elements in the novel, such as Ellison’s initial engagement with Marxism, and his eventual disgust with Left organizations that were unwilling to embrace non doctrinaire perspectives of “Negro” leader's, and whose loyalties to the Black Community seemed to Ellison to be tenuous or ambivalent, as oppose to authentically in solidarity.
Ellison’s own position was complex - very much signed on as a Race Man, and yet trafficking in a rainbow of ideas, perspectives and people not of any sole racial or ethnic group. In his letters he writes of wanting to be the conscience of the entire nation, without losing the specificities of the Black experience of his adolescence- he does not align with the Black Power move to that emerges in his later years - in the end, his contribution is to channel an excellence in the literary arts that does not hue to any party line, but celebrates the individual’s ability to find himself independent of doctrines, but nevertheless cognizant of the histories of the United States. That is to say, he believes in a form of self determination for “the Negro” that is compatible with integration and cross fertilization with members of the dominant group. And he has not laid this faith in the notion that African Americans can be the ones to redeem the founding institutions of American Democracy and Freedom. His mind was on fire as he wrote his letters, in the process of preparing for and later explaining “Invisible Man” and the position of the arts in society.
Here is an excerpt from a 1956 letter he wrote from Rome, to his Tuskegee Alum friend Albert Murray, where he articulates one of his favorite characters - the brassy, rambunctiously defiant, highly intelligent, yet unpredictable Black Man, “But hell, they forgot to bribe the preachers!...Yes, man! But they’re talking sense and acting! I’m supposed to know Negroes, being one myself, but these Moses are revealing just a little bit more of their complexity. Leader is a young cat who’s not only a preacher but a lawyer too, probably also an undertaker, a physician, and an atomic scientist.”
Actually arrived one day (31 hours) later than the "delivered" email stated, AFTER we had attempted to request a claim for non-delivery...BUT (according to Amazon) that is the delivery service problem, BUT it is really also an AMAZON problem, and clearly not the recipient's problem...