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Ralph Ellison

The Writer's Almanac from Minnesota Public Radio notes that today is the birthday of an unusually large number of notable poets (Lowell, Wilbur, Nemerov, Hass) but it's this item that really grabbed my attention:

It's the birthday of a man who had a hard time following up on his first book, Ralph Ellison, born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (1914). He originally wanted to be a classical composer, but when he met the great African-American writers Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, they encouraged him to write stories and book reviews for New York magazines. Ellison decided to quit studying music and devote his life to writing.

One day, Ellison was sitting in a barn on his friend's farm in Vermont, staring at a typewriter, when he typed the sentence, "I am an invisible man." He didn't know where it came from, but he wanted to pursue the idea, to find out what kind of a person would think of himself as invisible. The sentence turned into his first novel, Invisible Man, published in 1952.

From that one simple sentence came one of the greatest works of American literature. Inspiring, truly inspiring.

The arrival of the Ellison item is an interesting coincidence, as I'm currently reading Bayo Ojikutu's Free Burning which reminds me quite a bit of Invisible Man, from the urban milieu to the effortlessly feverish prose to the increasingly desperate plight of the protagonist. A very strong effort so far.

March 1, 2007 in Books | Permalink