Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Oklahoma's Ralph Ellison Explained in New Biography

The writer Ralph Ellison, a native Oklahoman, wrote one of the most acclaimed novels of the twentieth century, Invisible Man. But Ellison was a troubled and complex man, who never lived up to his potential after the the publication of Invisible Man in 1952.

We mention all this because of the buzz surrounding Arnold Rampersad's new biography of Ellison, in bookstores now. (We saw copies this week at the Border's on 21st Street). From the reviews we've seen, the book is not for the casual reader (it's 657 pages).

But serious students of Oklahoma's literary heritage will need to read this book. Both as a person and as a writer, Ellison was a paradox. Rampersad, a scholar whose previous biographies include Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson, has peeled back the layers of Ellison's life.

Based on what we can tell from the reviews, Rampersad has revealed Ellison's strengths as well as his many demons and contradictions. The Nation's reviewer, Michael Anderson, calls the biography "compassionate yet devastating." As we said, serious Oklahoma readers will want to check it out.

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