(Photo: © United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.)
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in 1914 (or 1913 – there is some debate on the date). Oklahoma City’s most notable literary figure and the author of Invisible Man, Ellison grew up in the Deep Deuce neighborhood and loved music (jazz as well as classical). He began playing the cornet at age 8, eventually majoring in music at the Tuskegee Institute after graduating from Douglass High School in 1932. But it was a meeting with writer Richard Wright after moving to New York City in 1936 that directed his path toward authorship. He published many reviews, short stories and essays from 1937 to 1944. Invisible Man was published in 1952, winning the 1953 National Book Award. Ellison then traveled and lived abroad (including in Rome) for a few years before returning to the U.S. in 1958 to teach at Bard College. In 1964 he began teaching at Rutgers and Yale before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and becoming a permanent faculty member at NYU in 1970. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1975, and continued teaching and publishing essays, receiving the National Medal of Arts in 1985 and publishing a collection of essays, Going to the Territory, in 1986. He died in 1994.
Oklahoma City’s Ralph Ellison Library was first dedicated in his honor in 1975, and in 2012 artist David Phelps unveiled a sculpture honoring Ellison at the library. As part of its Literary Arts series, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 91-cent stamp honoring him on Feb. 18, 2014, and on March 6, 1914, a portrait of Ellison was hung at the State Capitol on the fourth floor. The Ralph Ellison Foundation was also founded in 2014 to highlight “the accomplishments of the acclaimed author Ralph Waldo Ellison” and to empower “the lives of others through his philosophy, talents, and writings in the areas of Literacy, Music, and the Arts.” You can “check out” many of his works at your local branch of the Metropolitan Library System.
More info on Ralph Ellison:
-Library of Congress
-Interview with The Paris Review (Spring 1955)
-PBS’ American Masters
-Journal Record article on Ralph Ellison Foundation