Ralph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad
Reviewed by Christopher Benfey
The New Republic Online
"It is a ritual of American publishing that the distinguished literary dead are exhumed three times. First, unfinished drafts, long buried in the drawer or the hard drive, are rushed into print. Second, an official biography exposes the remaining secrets of the great writer's life. And third, intimate letters are collected and offered to a curious public. In 1999, five years after the death of the African American novelist and essayist Ralph Ellison from pancreatic cancer at the age of eighty-one, his devoted literary executor patched together the fragments of Ellison's second and endlessly delayed novel, called it Juneteenth, and ushered it into a brief and anticlimactic shelf life. Now, Arnold Rampersad, the author of well-received chronicles of Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson and a biographer of remarkable skill, has completed a crushingly revealing life of Ellison, and done it so well that no further such tombstone will be needed. It is only a matter of time before Ellison's letters — lively and nasty, judging from the extracts in Rampersad's biography — will come to light as well. The author of Invisible Man is becoming all too visible...." Read the entire New Republic Online review.
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