Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts: Ralph Ellison was a renowned American author and literary critic, who left an indelible mark on American literature with his seminal work, Invisible Man. Born in Oklahoma City in 1914, Ellison was raised in a culture steeped in African American folklore and music. This article provides a comprehensive overview of Ellison’s life, including his biography, literary works, and significant contributions to American literature and culture.

Personal Life

Ralph Waldo Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Lewis Alfred Ellison and Ida Milsap. His father, a construction foreman, died when Ellison was just three years old. His mother, who worked as a church stewardess, used to bring him books borrowed from the houses she cleaned. Ellison attended Frederick Douglass School in Oklahoma City, where he received lessons in symphonic composition. He began playing the trumpet at the age of eight and later attended Tuskegee Institute in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1933 to 1936, studying music. Despite completing only three years of his music major, Ellison received twelve honorary doctorate degrees from prestigious universities, including Tuskegee Institute, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and Harvard University.

Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts
Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts

In 1936, Ellison moved to New York City, where he met writers Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, prompting his move to Harlem. He lived in Harlem for over 40 years with his wife, Fanny McConnell. And became a well-known novelist, short story writer, and critic. He taught at several colleges and universities and lectured at prestigious institutions such as Yale University, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Military Academy. In 1970, he became the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at New York University, where he taught until 1980. He received numerous accolades, including the Chevalier de L’Ordre des Artes et Lettres, one of the highest honors France can bestow on a foreign writer. Ellison passed away from cancer on April 16, 1994, at his home in New York City.


Ralph Ellison was an American writer and scholar best known for his novel “Invisible Man”, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City and attended Tuskegee Institute before moving to New York City in 1936. Where he became involved in the Harlem Renaissance.

Ellison also worked as a music critic and wrote essays on a variety of topics, including jazz, blues, and visual art. He was particularly interested in exploring the relationship between African American culture and modernism.

His writing often explored themes of identity, race, and the complex social and cultural dynamics of America. His work was informed by his experiences growing up in the segregated South and his observations of the discrimination and violence faced by Black Americans in the 20th century.

Ellison’s influence on American literature and culture is significant, and he has been recognized with numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. He continued to write and teach until his death in 1994, leaving behind a legacy of literary and intellectual achievements that continue to inspire readers and scholars to this day.

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison biography | books | Facts -Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts – Invisible Man

The novel tells the story of an unnamed African American narrator who lives in the segregated United States in the 1930s and 1940s. The narrator is a young man who leaves his hometown in the South to attend a historically Black college. Which is widely believed to be based on Tuskegee Institute, where Ellison studied. The narrator’s experiences at the college and in New York City, where he moves after leaving the college, form the backbone of the novel.

The narrator encounters racism and discrimination at every turn, and he struggles to find his place in a society that refuses to recognize him as an individual. He becomes involved with a variety of political and social groups. Including a communist organization and a group of Black nationalists. He eventually comes to realize that he has been living his life as an “invisible man,” unseen and unacknowledged by the society around him.

Juneteenth: A Novel

Ralph Ellison biography | books | Facts -Juneteenth: A Novel
Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts – Juneteenth: A Novel

Juneteenth is a novel by Ralph Ellison, published posthumously in 1999. The novel was pieced together by Ellison’s literary executor, John F. Callahan, from thousands of pages of notes and manuscripts that Ellison had been working on for decades. The novel tells the story of Bliss, a light-skinned African American child who is abandoned by his mother and raised by a minister named Hickman.

The novel is set primarily in the 1950s and takes place over the course of a single day. The narrative weaves back and forth in time, exploring Bliss’s childhood and his relationship with Hickman, as well as his adult life as a race-baiting senator known as Adam Sunraider.

The title of the novel refers to Juneteenth, a holiday celebrated on June 19th that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The holiday is particularly significant in Texas, where it originated, and it marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston and announced that all slaves were free.

Namesake’s Philosophy

Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts – Ralph Waldo Emerson

His middle name was Waldo which he was named after the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82). Ellison’s interest in masks and disguises and his fascination with the dichotomy between appearance and reality can be attributed to his affinity for the philosophy of transcendentalism, which emphasizes that individuals shape their own reality and that reality is fundamentally spiritual or mental in nature. This outlook, which is similar Ralph Waldo Emerson was deeply influential in Ellison’s work.

Ellison greatly admired the American transcendentalists, particularly Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. He appreciated their trust in the democratic ideal of America, their commitment to cultural diversity. Their belief in individual freedom, and their idealistic vision of a world in which people would rise above their selfish desires, attain spiritual enlightenment, and collaborate for the betterment of humanity. Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” essay, which emphasizes the importance of personal integrity and the virtues of solitude. Perhaps best encapsulates this goal, as he asserts that “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” And emphasizes that “the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Ralph Ellison facts

Ralph Ellison biography | books | Facts
Ralph Ellison Biography | Books | Facts
  1. Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on March 1, 1914. He was the second of three sons born to Ida Millsap Ellison and Lewis Alfred Ellison, who died when Ralph was only three years old.
  2. Ellison attended Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Alabama, where he studied music. However, he left before completing his degree and moved to New York City to pursue a career in writing.
  3. His most famous work, Invisible Man, was published in 1952 and won the National Book Award in 1953. It is widely regarded as one of the most important works of 20th-century American literature.
  4. Ellison was also a gifted musician and photographer. He played the trumpet and was friends with many prominent jazz musicians of the time, including Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He also took photographs of prominent figures in the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. Ellison was a prominent figure in American literature and was awarded numerous honors throughout his life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. One of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a civilian in the United States. He died of pancreatic cancer on April 16, 1994, at the age of 80.

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