Another Black History Month has come and gone, but with the dawning of March comes the reminder that we celebrate African American culture year round: today is the anniversary of Ralph Ellison’s birth. Ellison is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century; his masterpiece, Invisible Man, vies with Joyce’s Ulysses and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time as that century’s finest literary achievement.
Beyond this classic novel, there is much more Ellison to be enjoyed. Some of the finest written takes on jazz music can be found in the pages of his Living With Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writing. To get more of a sense of the man himself, try Conversations with Ralph Ellison or Arnold Rampersad’s recent biography, which is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. For an online discussion of Ellison with Arnold Rampersad’s, check Christopher Lydon’s Open Source program entitled Ralph Ellison’s America.
Also of note are Ellison’s groundbreaking essay collections: Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory, which may be found in the 1995 Modern Library Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, with a preface by Saul Bellow. Whether dealing with race, literature, or music, Ellision is simply unsurpassed in his incisive style and hard won convictions.
Finally, if you are spending way too much time listening to talk radio while wending your way around the Birmingham Bridge detour (or just plain enjoy listening more than reading), try a book on tape or cd by this esteemed American author.