Reviews

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Rampersad's new biography sweeps every cobweb out of every nook and cranny of the life of Ralph Ellison (1913-1994), author of one of the seminal works of 20th-century fiction, Invisible Man. Rampersad, a professor of humanities at Stanford and biographer of Langston Hughes, was given unprecedented access to Ellison's extensive correspondence, and it shows: he seems to leave nothing out, including every cold Ellison ever came down with, though the details often add nothing to the developing portrait. The details will make this the definitive biography for now, but work remains to be done, because Rampersad fails to address the lasting question of Ellison's legacy: why he could never produce a second novel in his lifetime. (The biographer doesn't cover the posthumous publication of Ellison's unfinished Juneteenth.) Ellison never truly embraced the Civil Rights movement, quietly supporting the fight from afar while maintaining that his writing would represent his contribution to the cause. Still, Rampersad does plot how Ellison drew on his experiences in Jim Crow America to produce his groundbreaking novel. He reveals Ellison to have been prickly, short-tempered, self-absorbed and chronically bad to women, but also charming enough to win over influential people. Rampersad provides a wealth of material about Ellison, but synthesizing it all will be up to readers to do for themselves. 24 pages of photos. 40,000 first printing. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this comprehensive biography, Rampersad (humanities, Stanford Univ.; Jackie Robinson: A Biography) provides a fantastic account of one of the most renowned authors of the 20th century, examining both his writings and their historical importance. Ralph Ellison (1913-94) spent seven long years working on the literary masterpiece Invisible Man, which explored humankind's search for identity and place in society and which won Ellison international acclaim and the 1952 National Book Award, among other accolades. Rampersad suggests that Ellison's intent was to incorporate blacks into history through this novel, which he wanted to become a great work of art. His insight into Ellison's life provides readers with a deep knowledge of the man, his work, and the time period. Written in thorough detail and with great passion, this is is recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/06.]-Susan McClellan, Avalon P.L., Pittsburgh (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Time has reduced Ralph Ellison's image to that of a one-book wonder, a famous and esteemed black author estranged from black people. Rampersad offers a nuanced look at the complex and enigmatic author of the highly acclaimed Invisible Man (1952). The breakthrough novel, a first-person allegorical narrative plumbing race and identity, was widely believed to be autobiographical. It was not, but it did have parallels to Ellison's life and was amazingly prescient about the racial violence that was to come in the 1960s, a period when Ellison distanced himself from the turmoil in urban black America. Ellison arrived in New York in 1936, and his love of literature and yearning for an intellectual's life led him to embrace communism and eventually to develop close friendships among struggling authors and later literary lions, including Langston Hughes, Saul Bellow, Robert Penn Warren, and John Cheever. Despite the passion he displayed in essays on music, literature, and race relations, Ellison could be quite cool in relationships with his family, his wife, rising black authors, and friends who offended him. With driving ambition, Ellison garnered for himself many accolades and awards. But this highly individualistic author could not get beyond the distrust he provoked in black people who were seeking iconic racial solidarity. Nor could Ellison overcome the anguished paralysis that kept him from producing another novel. With access to Ellison's papers, Rampersad evokes the personal and artistic struggles of an unyielding man as well as the literary and political times in which he lived and on which he left an enduring impression. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2007 Booklist


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The celebrated biographer of Langston Hughes takes on another great African American writer. With a seven-city tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Offering a biography of Ellison that is neither exalting nor doctrinaire, Rampersad (Stanford) makes no excuses, appreciates where permissible, and is negatively critical when necessary. This is a carefully and minutely researched, inductive reaction to a writer who produced a masterpiece, Invisible Man, early on and little else after of such stature. Being a black writer, Ellison could not escape into the shelter of eccentricity as did J. D. Salinger. Rampersad places biographical material side by side with the critical praise for Invisible Man that neglects to mention the failed expectation, the public and professional persona versus the elitism adhered by Ellison--a perfectionist author who left at his death only a fragment of a second novel. Ellison cast himself as a follower of Emerson and Melville, and he received deserved honors that in the long run categorized him as an integrationist who denied separate-but-equal status. However one looks at it, two possible flaws are at work here: the more obvious condemnation of race and the glory train of academic honors that prevented further fiction. Including a generous sampling of photographs, this book is rich in anecdotal material of the literary world to which Ellison belonged. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. A. Hirsh emeritus, Central Connecticut State University