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Monday, September 29, 2014

Ralph Ellison

"It takes a deep commitment to change and an even deeper commitment to grow."

American Novelist
1914 - 1994

Change and growth require commitment.  People dream of changing their lives but usually they lack the deep commitment to do so.  Change takes hard work and follow through.  Nothing changes overnight.  

Many in the American society expect instant change.  Not happy with your body weight, take a pill or have surgery.  Not happy with your body, have plastic surgery.  Change takes commitment and patience.  It is better to lose weight slowly than quickly.  

Becoming a writer doesn't happen overnight.  It takes years.  Actors often are labeled an overnight success — a success which took ten or fifteen years.  Harrison Ford, the actor, spent 15 years in Hollywood before he got the break in Star Wars that made him famous.  Paulo Coehlo spent 15 years waiting for his best selling book, The Alchemist, to become a hit in the United States.  Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime and died broke.  Creative expression is a lifetime commitment.  Don't give up.

Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Lewis Alfred Ellison and Ida Millsap.  His father was a small business owner and construction foreman who died when Ralph was three. In his youth Ellison took radios apart and rebuilt them.  As an adult he constructed and customized elaborate hi-fi stero systems.

Ellison entered the Tuskegee Institute on a scholarship to  study music and studied under piano teacher Hazel Harrison.  While studying music, he also began to read the classics.  His reading of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot awakened in him the desire to write.  He learned later in life that his father wanted him to become a poet.

After his junior year, Ellison moved to New York to study sculpture and photography.  There he met Richard Wright who encouraged him to write fiction.  Between 1937 and 1944, Ellison published short stories, articles and book reviews in various magazines.  His first novel, Invisible Man, was published in 1952 and won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953.

For most of his life, Ellison was a college professor and wrote and published essays.  He worked the rest of his life on his second novel and wrote over 2,000 pages.  The novel was published under the title, Juneteenth, after his death.

Here is a short discussion of the impact of Ralph Ellison and Invisible Man.