American writer Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) is best remembered for his novel Invisible Man, published in 1952 and winner of the National Book Award. During his lifetime, Ellison wrote numerous short stories and essays, although his second novel, Juneteenth, did not appear until after his death. Ellison remains one of leading voices in 20th century African American literature.
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, and attended the famed Tuskegee Institute, where he studied music. During his years at Tuskegee, Ellison spent numerous hours in the library, discovering literature. Following his third year at the school, he moved to New York City, where he met the writer Richard Wright, who encouraged the young man to pursue a career in writing. After World War II, Ellison made a career writing book reviews, but spent most of his time working on Invisible Man.
Invisible Man is one of the more important works of the 20th century, exploring themes of identity and racism in American society. Shadow and Act, a collection of essays, appeared in 1964 and Ellison soon began teaching at both Rutgers and Yale Universities. In 1967, a house fire destroyed most his papers, including his second novel. Juneteenth would eventually appear in 1999, edited from thousands of uncollected pages worked on over the decades.
Ralph Ellison died in 1994 from pancreatic cancer and was buried at Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan. From his papers, Flying Home and Other Stories was published in 1996, followed by Juneteenth and Three Days Before the Shooting, in 2010.