Ralph Waldo Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994) was an American novelist, literary critic, scholar and writer. Ellison is best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953.He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986).
Ralph Waldo Ellison and his younger brother were raised by their mother after his father died when Ellison was three. His grandparents were slaves during their lifetime.
Ellison loved music and expected to be a musician and a composer. At 19, he had enrolled at Tuskegee Institute as a music major, playing the trumpet.
Ellison found his way into the Communist party because it seemed to be the strongest and most promising force for change in African American life. Ellison broke with communism when he came to understand that the party was exploiting black Americans rather than genuinely championing their causes.
His disappointment with the Communist party is a key theme in Invisible Man. "That mood is also apparent in "Cadillac Flambé," in which a black man acts out of anger against his own susceptibility to consumerism, the dream that something purchased can bring fulfillment and peace."
Invisible Man was Ellison's first and only complete novel. It was translated into fifteen languages, was atop the bestseller's list for sixteen weeks and won the National Book Award.
"In many ways, the rest of Ellison’s career was a great disappointment. He did not capitalize on his early success by embarking on a prolific literary career; in fact, the first work Ellison published after Invisible Man was a book of essays, not a new piece of fiction."
He was drawn to New York City due to the opportunity to meet such authors as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. After briefly returning to Ohio in 1937, Ellison returned to New York in 1938 determined to pursue a literary career.
Many desperately wanted another novel from Ellison. For years there were rumors of another novel, about which little was publicly revealed. After his death in 1994, an unfinished manuscript was found and published in 1999 as Juneteenth.
Ellison was a trumpet player for his school's band. In Oklahoma he was exposed to jazz, swing, and blues music. While a trumpet player, he also pursued his interests in literature.
From 1962 to 1964, Ellison taught at Rutgers University. During this time he was also a fellow in American Studies at Yale.