Writer Ralph Waldo Ellison (1914 -1994) saw America as a place of endless possibilities and his words searched for the meaning of freedom and identity.
As a young man, his heart's desire was to be a musician, so he moved from Oklahoma City to New York in 1936. "I thought of it as the freest of American cities and considered Harlem as the site and symbol of Afro-American progress," he explained.
In New York, he met Richard Wright, a black storyteller who urged Ellison to write and "give voice to the voiceless black experience." Ellison listened and began to integrate his passion for jazz with the flow of his word construction.
What emerged was Invisible Man, a seven-year project that became a college text standard upon its 1952 release. Named by Book Week as "the most distinguished single work" published in America between 1945 and 1965, the novel is written in first person, singular. Its nameless narrator, a black man growing up in the South and Harlem in the 1930s, struggles for identity in a world of intolerance.
"I am an invisible man. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
Invisible Man, the only book Ellison published in his lifetime, was a critical and cultural phenomena. "I think the good novelist reduces the chaos of human experience to artistic form. And when successful, he provides the reader with a fresh vision of reality," observed Ellison, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.
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