Ralph Ellison won the National Book Award in 1952 for the only novel he ever published. That novel was “The Invisible Man;” a story about a black man in America who feels invisible to American society because of the color of his skin. It’s a timely tale that rang true when it was published and rings true in the era of Black Lives Matter.
Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, OK, and lost his father at an early age. Before taking up writing, Ellison played the cornet and wanted to direct his ambitions toward a life as a symphonic composer. However, after moving to New York, Ellison picked up a job as a writer for the New York Federal Writers Program and became the editor of The Negro Quarterly. At this time, he met the likes of Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, and Richard Wright. With their tutelage and friendship, his skills as a writer grew.
The Invisible Man
Ellison had already been publishing essays and short stories before tackling a novel as a project. After his enlistment in the Merchant Marine as a cook during WWII, he took to writing his novel and published it in 1952. The novel was met with fanfare, stayed on the 1953 bestseller list for 16 weeks, and won the National Book Award. The success of “The Invisible Man” essentially helped shape the minds of Americans as it relates to race relations and under-represented and disenfranchised groups during that era. The lasting effect of his novel is still apparent in modern literature with some authors citing it as one of the most important works of the last 100 years (Read.gov).
Ellison has had an impression on literature and his work highly regarded by critics and readers. No doubt, the messages and realistic depiction of a marginalized individual (and race) in “The Invisible Man” serve to keep the book at the top of the stack in the modern era.