Ralph Ellison, 1914-1994, was a Midwesterner, born in Oklahoma and educated at the famous Tuskegee Institute.
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He influenced black literature by having written only one book. The highly acclaimed book, Invisible Man, is a story of a black man who lives underground: his home is an escapist cave
lit by the unlimited electricity stolen from a utility company.
When the man leaves this shelter (which would remind some of that netherworld coziness they saw on the TV series [i]Beauty and the Beast/i]) he experiences the reality of the grotesquely bright world aboveground: he wins a scholarship to a black college and is humiliated by whites; he attends the college and sees the black president ridiculing black American issues. The after-the-college life offers him more of the grotesque: a preacher turns out to be a criminal.
The man exited his underground paradise to find a society that has no interest to provide its citizens – black and white – with moral goals and ideals as well as institutions for realizing them. The book is the first to have formulated an objective racial theme and a sophisticated statement: the invisible man is invisible because the narrow-minded world cannot see him for who he is. As he says in the prologue:
"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
Ellison is famous for the quote: "Literature is colorblind."
Initially, many in the Black Arts movement shunned Ellison because he dreamed openly of America as a land of cultural synergy.
Ellison was an accomplished jazz trumpeter and a free-lance photographer.