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Por que Ralph Ellison nunca publicou um segundo romance durante sua vida


Aclamado como um dos maiores romances do século 20, “Homem Invisível”, estabeleceu Ralph Ellison como um dos escritores mais famosos da América. Fãs, críticos e acadêmicos esperaram impacientemente por seu segundo romance, que Ellison começou a escrever em meados da década de 1950. Eles esperariam muito tempo.

Ellison explodiu no cenário literário em 1952 com a publicação de seu romance de estreia "Homem Invisível", que passou 16 semanas na lista dos mais vendidos e ganhou o National Book Award (derrotando "O Velho e o Mar" de Ernest Hemingway e John Steinbeck “Leste do Éden”, entre outros), tornando-se o primeiro autor negro a ganhar o prêmio.

Nos anos que se seguiram a “Homem Invisível”, Ellison publicou ensaios aclamados, mas falhou em produzir o segundo romance ambicioso que havia prometido. No final de 1965, Ralph Ellison finalmente publicou um trecho daquele livro tão esperado na Quarterly Review of Literature. O trecho, intitulado "Décimo junho", fazia referência ao feriado de 19 de junho marcando o dia em 1865 quando um general da União chegou ao Texas e anunciou que os 250.000 escravos do estado estavam livres de acordo com a Proclamação de Emancipação.

A história, sobre um ministro batista negro que cria um filho de raça indeterminada, apenas para vê-lo se reinventar como um senador dos Estados Unidos que luta contra a raça, aguçou o apetite do público por um futuro romance de Ellison. Os fãs que esperam ler um novo trabalho de Ellison nos próximos meses, no entanto, ficarão profundamente desapontados. Em 1967, um incêndio atingiu a casa de verão do autor e partes do segundo livro inacabado se perderam nas chamas. No final dos anos 70, a esposa de Ellison, Fanny, afirmou que ele estava pronto para entregar o romance a sua editora, pouco antes do incêndio reivindicar o manuscrito.

Ellison começou a escrever sua continuação de "Homem Invisível" já em 1954. Nos 13 anos seguintes, ele continuou a trabalhar nisso por meio da ascensão do movimento pelos direitos civis liderado pelo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., que trouxe para a vanguarda das questões políticas, sociais e raciais que Ellison, como o escritor afro-americano mais proeminente do país, poderia ter influenciado.

A pressão para publicar o livro estava aumentando em novembro de 1967, quando Ellison e sua esposa Fanny voltaram de uma missão para encontrar sua casa em Plainfield, Massachusetts, em chamas. Embora o incêndio tenha assumido proporções míticas ao longo dos anos, não está claro exatamente quanto trabalho ele perdeu. Em sua biografia de Ellison de 2007, Arnold Rampersad citou uma carta que Ellison escreveu cerca de cinco semanas após o incidente, na qual ele parecia relativamente tranquilo: “Perdi parte do meu manuscrito - as revisões nas quais trabalhei [no] verão e valiosas cadernos. Mas desde que voltei para N.Y., tenho trabalhado muito e estou me reconstruindo gradualmente. ”

Mas ao longo dos meses e anos que se seguiram, a perda pareceu se intensificar na mente de Ellison. De acordo com Rampersad, em outubro do ano seguinte, Ellison disse a um repórter na Carolina do Norte que havia perdido 365 páginas. Em entrevistas posteriores, o número total de páginas destruídas chegou a 500.

Em um perfil publicado no Nova iorquino no início de 1994, quatro décadas depois de Ellison começar a trabalhar no romance, o autor conversou com David Remnick sobre o impacto do incêndio. “Perdemos uma casa de veraneio e, com ela, boa parte do romance. Não era o manuscrito inteiro, mas tinha mais de trezentas e sessenta páginas. Não havia cópia. ” Quando Remnick perguntou quanto tempo ele havia perdido, Ellison fez uma pausa antes de responder: “Sabe, não tenho certeza. É meio borrado para mim. Mas o romance chamou minha atenção agora. Eu trabalho todos os dias, então haverá algo em breve. ”

Dois meses depois dessa entrevista, Ellison morreu de câncer pancreático aos 80 anos. Seu amigo e executor literário, John Callahan, se viu responsável pelas mais de 2.000 páginas de trabalho que Ellison deixou para trás, sem nenhuma instrução sobre o que fazer com ele . Desse material volumoso, Callahan extraiu o que viria a ser um romance de 350 páginas, “Juneteenth”, publicado em 1999.

O romance começa com uma tentativa de assassinato de um jovem negro contra Adam Sunraider, um senador notoriamente fanático por um estado da Nova Inglaterra. Gravemente ferido, o senador chama para o seu lado o reverendo Alonzo Hickman, um ex-músico de jazz que se tornou ministro batista que acolheu Sunraider quando criança e o criou como um prodígio da pregação. Enquanto Hickman e Sunraider relembram seu passado juntos, eles se concentram em um sermão agitado que celebra o feriado de junho em uma igreja do sul, durante o qual o jovem Bliss - como Sunraider era conhecido na época - descobre que sua mãe era uma mulher branca. A revelação o lança em seu caminho de independência de Hickman e, eventualmente, em uma carreira no entretenimento e na política polêmica.

Em uma entrevista em 2010, Callahan afirmou que o bloqueio de escritor não tinha sido o problema de Ellison. “Ellison escreveu e escreveu e escreveu e escreveu”, disse ele. Ele também concordou com a conclusão de Rampersad de que Ellison perdeu "o valor de revisões de um verão" no incêndio de 1967. No final, após 40 anos de trabalho, parecia que o peso de grandes expectativas, o volume pesado da narrativa e a pressão para dar voz aos eventos transformadores da época combinaram-se para garantir que Ellison nunca terminasse o romance arrebatador da América ele imaginou.

Apesar de sua chegada demorada e de seu inevitável fracasso em corresponder ao sucesso de "Homem Invisível", o "Décimo terceiro mês" de Ellison é uma homenagem à vida de um escritor às voltas com as contradições e complexidades raciais. Em seu leito de morte, o senador fictício Sunraider, que descarta o feriado de junho como “a celebração de uma ilusão espalhafatosa”, percebe que sua própria narrativa não é apenas um conto de liberdade e sucesso. Em vez disso, está intrinsecamente ligado à história do jovem que atirou nele e à história dos ex-escravos que souberam de sua independência naquele dia de junho de 1865.


Ralph Ellison

Ralph Waldo Ellison (1 de março de 1913 [a] - 16 de abril de 1994) foi um romancista, crítico literário e estudioso afro-americano mais conhecido por seu romance Homem invisível, que ganhou o National Book Award em 1953. [2] Ele também escreveu Shadow and Act (1964), uma coleção de ensaios políticos, sociais e críticos, e Indo para o Território (1986). Para O jornal New York Times, o melhor desses ensaios, além do romance, coloca-o "entre os deuses do Parnaso literário da América". [3] Um romance póstumo, Décima quinta, foi publicado após ser compilado a partir de volumosas notas que ele deixou após sua morte.


Década de 1940

Durante as décadas de 1930 e 40, Hughes e Sterling A. Brown mantiveram o espírito folk vivo na poesia afro-americana. Uma admiradora de Hughes, Margaret Walker dedicou Para meu povo (1942), cujo título poema continua sendo um dos textos mais populares para recitação e performance na literatura afro-americana, para as mesmas bases negras americanas que Hughes e Brown celebraram. No início da década de 1940, três figuras, Melvin B. Tolson, Robert Hayden e Chicagoan Gwendolyn Brooks, mostravam como a tradição vernácula poderia ser adaptada à experimentação modernista. A variedade de expressividade e inovação formal na poesia afro-americana da década de 1940 se reflete na densa alusão de Tolson Rendezvous with America (1942), os poemas de história meditativa de Hayden, como "Middle Passage" (1945) e "Frederick Douglass" (1947), e o tributo de Brooks à vitalidade e rigores da vida urbana negra em A Street em Bronzeville (1945) e seu volume vencedor do Prêmio Pulitzer, Annie Allen (1949). A década de 1940 também foi uma década de experimentação criativa em autobiografia, liderada por Du Bois Crepúsculo do amanhecer (1940), um auto-intitulado "ensaio para uma autobiografia de um conceito de raça" de Hurston Trilhas de poeira em uma estrada (1942), um dos primeiros empreendimentos na "autoetnografia", a escrita de si mesmo por meio da caracterização de uma cultura (neste caso, a cultura rural negra do sul das raízes de Hurston) J. Saunders Redding's Sem dia de triunfo (1942), a história da busca de um profissional do Norte alienado por uma imersão redentora nas comunidades da classe trabalhadora negra do sul e na de Wright Menino negro.


Ralph Ellison

Nossos editores irão revisar o que você enviou e determinar se o artigo deve ser revisado.

Ralph Ellison, na íntegra Ralph Waldo Ellison, (nascido em 1 de março de 1914, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, EUA - morreu em 16 de abril de 1994, Nova York, Nova York), escritor americano que ganhou destaque com seu primeiro romance (e o único publicado durante sua vida), Homem invisível (1952).

Ellison deixou o Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (agora Tuskegee University) em 1936 após três anos de estudo de música e mudou-se para a cidade de Nova York. Lá ele fez amizade com Richard Wright, que encorajou Ellison a tentar escrever. Em 1937, Ellison começou a contribuir com contos, resenhas e ensaios para vários periódicos. Ele trabalhou no Federal Writers ’Project de 1938 a 1942, que seguiu com uma passagem como editor-chefe da The Negro Quarterly por pouco menos de um ano.

Após o serviço na Segunda Guerra Mundial, ele produziu Homem invisível, que ganhou o Prêmio Nacional do Livro de 1953 para ficção. A história é um bildungsroman que conta a história de um jovem negro sulista ingênuo e idealista (e, significativamente, sem nome) que vai para o Harlem, se junta à luta contra a opressão branca e acaba sendo ignorado por seus companheiros negros e também pelos brancos. O romance ganhou elogios por suas inovações estilísticas ao infundir motivos literários clássicos com a cultura e a fala negras modernas, ao mesmo tempo em que oferece uma abordagem totalmente única sobre a construção da identidade afro-americana contemporânea. No entanto, o tratamento de Ellison de seu romance como, antes de mais nada, uma obra de arte - em oposição a uma obra primariamente polêmica - levou a algumas reclamações de seus colegas romancistas negros na época de que ele não era suficientemente dedicado à mudança social.

Depois de Homem invisível apareceu, Ellison publicou apenas duas coleções de ensaios: Shadow and Act (1964) e Indo para o Território (1986). Ele lecionou amplamente sobre a cultura negra, folclore e redação criativa e ensinou em várias faculdades e universidades americanas. Voando para casa e outras histórias foi publicado postumamente em 1996. Ele deixou um segundo romance inacabado quando morreu. Foi publicado, em uma forma muito reduzida, como Décima quinta em 1999. As cartas selecionadas de Ralph Ellison foi lançado em 2019.


6.8: Ralph Ellison (1914 - 1994)

  • Berke, Bleil e amp Cofer
  • Professores (inglês) na Middle Georgia State University, College of Coastal Georgia e Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
  • Proveniente da University of North Georgia Press

Ralph Waldo Ellison nasceu em Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. O pai de Ellison, Lewis, um trabalhador manual que entregava gelo e carvão, era um leitor ávido que deu ao filho o nome de Ralph Waldo Emerson e que esperava que seu filho crescesse e se tornasse um poeta. Infelizmente, ele morreu de um acidente de trabalho quando Ellison tinha três anos, o que deixou os dois irmãos, Robert e Herbert, criados por sua mãe solteira, Ida. A ausência de seu pai permaneceria um tema recorrente na obra de Ellison.

Quando jovem, Ellison se interessou por artes e cultura, especificamente, música. Em 1933, ele se matriculou no Instituto Tuskegee, uma faculdade historicamente negra que oferecia um dos melhores programas de música do país. Durante seu tempo em Tuskegee, Ellison ganhou a reputação de passar longas horas na biblioteca, lendo pesadamente vários escritores modernistas. Ellison cita T. S. Eliot & rsquos A terra do desperdício como uma grande influência em sua vida, inspirando-o a ser um escritor. Após a faculdade, Ellison mudou-se para Nova York, onde conheceu o influente artista Romare Bearden e também o escritor Richard Wright, ambos influências importantes na vida de Ellison e rsquos. Durante esse tempo em Nova York, Ellison começou a publicar contos, ensaios e resenhas de livros.

Em 1952, Ellison publicou seu romance de estreia, O homem invisível, um best-seller crítico que ganhou o National Book Award. O romance saltou para os holofotes internacionais como escritor, uma posição que ele nem sempre abraçou. O homem invisível descreve como o protagonista (que nunca é nomeado e é, portanto, & ldquoinvisible & rdquo) experimenta vários incidentes de racismo ao longo de sua vida depois de se mudar do Sul para Nova York. O romance, Ellison & rsquos apenas um publicado durante sua vida, permaneceu um dos romances mais famosos e mais influentes da literatura americana. Ele passou o resto de sua vida trabalhando em um romance subsequente. Em 1967, ele afirmou estar perto da conclusão de seu romance quando um incêndio em sua casa consumiu seus rascunhos. Após sua morte, sua continuação póstuma foi publicada sob o título Décima quinta (1999) mais tarde, uma versão mais longa deste romance foi publicada com o título Três dias antes da filmagem (2010).

Embora ele nunca tenha publicado um segundo romance em sua vida, ele publicou vários ensaios, incluindo ensaios sobre seu amor pela música ao longo de sua vida. Sua coleção de ensaios Shadow and Act (1964) foi eleito um dos 100 melhores livros de não ficção do século XX. Um dos temas comuns do trabalho de Ellison & rsquos, tanto na ficção quanto na não ficção, era a ideia de ancestralidade cultural - a ideia de que nossos ancestrais culturais poderiam ser tão influentes quanto nossos ancestrais biológicos. & ldquoBattle Royale, & rdquo o capítulo de abertura de O homem invisível, descreve a experiência humilhante do protagonista ao aceitar uma bolsa de estudos de uma organização cívica local. Embora seja o capítulo introdutório, foi altamente antologizado como um conto.


Romance sem fim de Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison é mais famoso por duas coisas: escrever o clássico Homem invisível e nunca publicou outro romance durante sua vida. A história do bloqueio de seu suposto escritor se tornou quase tão familiar para muitos leitores quanto qualquer coisa que ele publicou.

Adam Bradley, professor associado de inglês na Universidade do Colorado em Boulder, deseja reescrever essa história. No Ralph Ellison em andamento (publicado este mês na Yale University Press), ele argumenta que o trabalho que Ellison fez na segunda metade de sua vida revela ainda mais sobre a agenda artística e ambição do escritor do que Homem invisível faz - e nos permite ler esse trabalho clássico com novos olhos.

Muitas vezes, “a história da vida literária de Ellison parece uma tragédia: promessa não cumprida, talento dissipado, criatividade extinta cedo demais”, escreve Bradley. Mas as milhares de páginas de notas, manuscritos digitados e impressões de computador que Ellison deixou para trás não parecem o legado de arquivo de um escritor bloqueado.

Bradley teve a chance de conhecer o trabalho de Ellison de uma forma que a maioria dos estudiosos da literatura nunca conheceu: ele serviu como co-editor, com John F. Callahan, professor de humanidades no Lewis & amp Clark College, do Três dias antes do tiroteio. (publicado em janeiro pela Modern Library). É a versão mais completa que temos até agora do segundo romance inacabado de Ellison. (Callahan publicou partes do romance em 1999 sob o título Décima quinta.)

“Sempre achei que havia algo engraçado quando ouvia as pessoas dizerem que Ellison foi vítima de bloqueio de escritor”, disse Bradley em uma entrevista. Quanto às conclusões de que "de alguma forma, Ellison tirou os olhos de sua escrita e se voltou simplesmente para outras atividades, sejam elas algum tipo de vida social, seu calendário social variado conforme apresentado na biografia recente de Arnold Rampersad [Ralph Ellison: uma biografia, publicado pela Knopf em 2007], parecia-me muito fácil culpar isso, especialmente considerando as evidências de seu trabalho ”, diz Bradley. Trabalhar com os 46.000 itens no arquivo de Ellison, agora abrigado na Biblioteca do Congresso, o convenceu de que "este era um homem dedicado ao seu trabalho".

Bradley tem se destacado com seu próprio trabalho no rap e no hip-hop. Ele é o autor de Livro de Rimas: A Poética do Hip Hop (Basic Civitas Books, 2009), e agora ele está ajudando a editar uma antologia de letras de rap a ser publicada neste outono pela Yale University Press.

Ellison, um homem dedicado ao jazz que balança, pode parecer muito distante dos rappers de hoje, mas Bradley vê uma conexão. “Não é que Ellison gostaria de hip-hop, mas ele me torna um ouvinte melhor de hip-hop ao me ensinar certas coisas sobre como abordar a cultura afro-americana, como pensar sobre o processo vernáculo, os meios pelos quais as pessoas criativas pegue o que está à mão e faça novas formas ”, afirma.

Mais tarde, por e-mail, Bradley amplia esse ponto. “Ellison frequentemente falava sobre o que chamou de 'processo vernáculo', o meio pelo qual se pega um estilo herdado e o combina com um improvisado para criar algo inteiramente novo. O hip-hop faz exatamente isso, pegando toca-discos herdados e álbuns de discos e criando um novo instrumento a partir deles ou pegando ritmos verbais familiares - de canções infantis, cantigas de propaganda, o que for - e transformando-os em uma poesia moderna no rap. ”

O interesse de Bradley por Ellison remonta à primavera de 1993, quando ele era um calouro na Lewis & amp Clark College, em Portland, Oregon, onde estudou com Callahan. Entre os romances que leu, Homem invisível significava mais.

“Isso falou sobre muitas coisas que eu estava enfrentando no momento, ser uma criança birracial com um pai negro e mãe branca”, lembra Bradley. “Ler aquele livro se tornou minha estrela guia de várias maneiras.”

Ellison morreu na primavera de 1994, um ano depois que Bradley leu Homem invisível. Callahan, que foi nomeado executor literário, precisava de um assistente de pesquisa e perguntou a Bradley, então com 19 anos e estudante do segundo ano, se ele estaria interessado. “Não precisei pensar muito nisso”, diz Bradley, chamando-o de “momento milagroso”.

Em uma entrevista, Callahan lembra o quão fortemente Bradley respondeu à escrita de Ellison. “Homem invisível foi até o osso da identidade de Adão e a pessoa que ele estava se tornando ”, diz ele.

Esse envolvimento com Ellison persistiu, com alguns intervalos. Bradley escreveu sua dissertação sobre teorias do mal em romances afro-americanos escritos depois de 1950 - mas não incluiu Homem invisível. “Eu estava muito influenciado pelo pensamento de Ellison”, explica ele. “Senti a necessidade de romper e criar uma perspectiva independente. A parte engraçada sobre isso é que, nas vezes em que tentei me afastar de Ellison ao longo da minha carreira, acabei voltando como um bumerangue. ”

O livro de Bradley, Callahan diz, abre a conversa sobre o que as notas e manuscritos no arquivo nos dizem não apenas sobre o segundo romance de Ellison, mas também sobre o primeiro. Ajuda o fato de os acadêmicos agora terem maior acesso ao arquivo Ellison, embora algumas restrições permaneçam.

Antes de o arquivo ir para a Biblioteca do Congresso, ele foi mantido por um tempo na Lewis & amp Clark. Bradley se lembra de ter ajudado Callahan a carregar as caixas para um quarto em uma velha casa no campus. “Outro momento milagroso ocorreu quando o professor Callahan me disse:‘ Se você tiver algum tempo e estiver interessado, pode ir em frente e começar a olhar algumas dessas páginas do manuscrito para o segundo romance de Ellison ’, lembra ele.

Então, Bradley se viu lendo o trabalho mais recente de Ellison, algumas páginas que o escritor havia composto em seu computador apenas alguns meses antes. “O que me impressionou - e este foi um momento que mudou o curso da minha vida, não acho que seja muito para dizer - foi encontrar algo que eu nunca teria esperado encontrar na obra de um escritor de Ellison estatura, e isso foi um erro de digitação ”, diz Bradley. “E então eu vi outro e outro e outro. E então eu fiquei um pouco convencido e pensei: Essa não é uma frase muito boa. "

À medida que trabalhava mais com os manuscritos e via Ellison fazendo mudanças ao longo do caminho, no entanto, Bradley pensou consigo mesmo: “É assim que a grandeza surge. Aqui é Ralph Ellison em andamento. ” Daí o título do novo livro, que o estudioso diz "incorpora todo o pensamento que tenho feito sobre Ellison desde que tinha 19 anos."

Ralph Ellison em andamento: de “homem invisível” a “três dias antes das filmagens. ” centra-se nos anos decisivos na vida de escritor de Ellison. Funciona para trás no tempo: 1982, quando ele começou a trabalhar em um computador em 1970, quando era "um autor sitiado", como diz Bradley, atacado como "um escritor do establishment" e "um tio Tom", nas palavras de um crítico marxista dos anos 1950, no nascimento do movimento pelos direitos civis, quando Ellison já devia estar fazendo anotações para seu segundo romance enquanto trabalhava no primeiro de 1945, quando começou a trabalhar em Homem invisível.

Ao longo de seu livro, Bradley apresenta tópicos que conectam o primeiro e o segundo romances de Ellison. Por exemplo, na seção sobre 1945, Bradley identifica o “realismo dilatado” como a “filosofia governante” de ambos os livros. A noção de realismo dilatado - mais do que naturalismo, não exatamente surrealismo - vem de Ellison, que, em uma introdução a um trecho de Homem invisível publicado em 1948, explicou que o livro foi concebido como “uma quase alegoria ou uma metáfora estendida. . Um realismo dilatado para lidar com o estado quase surreal de nossa vida americana cotidiana. ”

Ele também encontra evidências no arquivo de que “Homem Invisível já teve uma esposa”. As notas de trabalho de Ellison revelam que logo no início ele imaginou um caso de amor inter-racial como um dos impulsionadores da história, apenas para descartá-lo. “Como Ellison imaginou, Homem invisível seria uma espécie de história de amor, embora uma em que o motivo principal do relacionamento não fosse a comunhão de almas, mas a formação de uma entidade individual ”, escreve Bradley. “Esta nota textual e os rascunhos do manuscrito que refletem o espírito dela na ficção sugerem um afastamento radical do romance publicado, uma nova visão fictícia em que a relação do Homem Invisível com uma mulher não é apenas significativa, mas elementar.”

Nos rascunhos do segundo romance, Bradley encontra Ellison realmente tentando lidar com o amor como assunto. Ele acha que isso pode ser em parte o resultado libertador de trabalhar em um computador, em vez de em uma máquina de escrever ou à mão.

“Suas maiores improvisações no computador, particularmente aquelas partidas que o levam para longe de um terreno fictício familiar, estão entre os escritos mais emocionalmente nus produzidos por Ellison”, escreve Bradley em Ralph Ellison em andamento. “Dentro deles, ele trata de temas que não foram considerados em outras partes de sua ficção - mesmo em encarnações anteriores do segundo romance. Notável entre eles é o amor, tanto filial quanto romântico. ”

O romance envolve um homem negro mais velho do jazz e pregador chamado Alonzo Hickman e um senador que atrai disputas raciais chamado Adam Sunraider. Quando jovem, na zona rural da Geórgia, Hickman ajudou a criar Sunraider, então chamado de Bliss, um órfão “de raça indefinida que parece branco”. Anos depois, Hickman chega a Washington para tentar impedir o assassinato de Sunraider pelo filho afastado do senador.

Três dias antes do tiroteio. , a versão que Callahan e Bradley reuniram a partir das notas e rascunhos do segundo romance no arquivo de Ellison tem quase mil páginas. É um grande livro em todos os sentidos, cheio de democracia e demagogia, raça e religião, pais (reais e substitutos) e filhos.

A evidência de arquivo sugere que o computador deu a Ellison mais liberdade para experimentação. “Você pode ver Ellison brincando nos arquivos do computador”, diz Bradley. “Você pode vê-lo mexendo na própria palavra e se divertindo muito com sua criação. Ao mesmo tempo, você pode sentir que o computador pode ter se tornado um facilitador de algumas das fraquezas literárias de Ellison, a maior delas sendo sua quase mania por revisão. ”

Os rascunhos de Homem invisível mostre que Ellison faria muitas anotações e, em seguida, escreveria “riffs à mão que ele integraria em rascunhos digitados”, escreve Bradley em seu livro. “Ele pegava caneta ou lápis nessas páginas datilografadas, submetendo-as a revisões escrupulosas, muitas vezes produzindo meia dúzia - até mesmo uma dúzia - de rascunhos até ficar satisfeito.” Em seguida, ele ou sua esposa, Fanny, pegariam esses rascunhos e os datilografaria novamente em uma cópia limpa que ele editaria posteriormente.

Bradley vê o segundo romance como um texto fluido. “A mesma cena pode existir em várias iterações, cada uma mantendo a mesma autoridade”, escreve ele. “Em outras palavras, não existe realmente algo como um rascunho antiquado, nada é obsoleto porque Ellison nunca fez qualquer julgamento final, nunca tomou as decisões difíceis que transformam um manuscrito em um romance. O computador possibilitou isso criando um 'texto fluido', que adiou indefinidamente a fixidez de um manuscrito impresso. ”

Um escritor pode achar difícil abrir mão dessa sensação de possibilidades infinitas, mas um livro acabado exige que o autor faça escolhas e exclua certas possibilidades. É tentador dizer que o computador, que torna mais fácil fazer revisão após revisão após revisão ad infinitum, foi o que impediu Ellison de terminar o segundo romance.

Bradley acha que é uma análise muito fácil. “Não importa quanto tempo Ellison tivesse, não tenho certeza se ele algum dia teria terminado o livro”, diz ele. "Não importa que tipo de equipamento ele tinha, não tenho certeza se ele algum dia teria terminado o livro."

Mesmo antes de Ellison mudar para o computador, ele já tinha o suficiente para um romance. “É um bom editor longe de ser uma obra de ficção publicável”, diz Bradley sobre a evidência do manuscrito naquele estágio intermediário. “A questão se resume a por que Ellison não estava pronto para deixar o manuscrito ir.”

Para Bradley, a resposta tem algo a ver com o assunto de Ellison: a própria América. “Ele se senta para escrever isso no momento em que o movimento pelos direitos civis está tomando forma”, diz Bradley. Depois de Homem invisível, Ellison escreveu durante o resto da década de 1950 e na década de 1960, através dos assassinatos e marcos legislativos e sociais e a Guerra do Vietnã. O tempo passou, décadas se passaram A América mudou, então o romance teve que continuar mudando também. “Eu o imagino sentado e olhando para cima, quando ele estava satisfeito com o que tinha feito, para ver que o mundo havia mudado, então voltar ao trabalho e continuar e continuar”, explica Bradley.

Quando ele anunciou em sua página do Facebook que Três dias antes do tiroteio. estava saindo, ele recebeu comentários de vários dos artistas de hip-hop que conheceu, incluindo o rapper Bun B.

“Ele estava tão animado”, lembra Bradley. “Mandei uma cópia para ele, e ele está lendo. Isso apenas mostra a você o que Ellison entendia tão bem. Ele costumava dizer: ‘Este é um país maluco’. Ele quis dizer isso como uma forma de elogio. Ele quis dizer que é um país onde tudo é possível. ”

No final, Bradley sugere, o que pode ter impedido Ellison de publicar um segundo romance não foi o bloqueio do escritor, mas o desejo de segurar um espelho grande o suficiente para refletir as complexidades da América. Nesse segundo romance, Ellison estava tentando descobrir “como conseguir descrever a América para si mesma e para o mundo”, diz Bradley. “Este pode ser o mais perto que chegaremos do Grande Romance Americano no sentido mais puro, um lugar grande, confuso e conflituoso que, no entanto, tem grande beleza e potencial.”


Blogis librorum. Um blog sobre livros. Livros raros.

Em 30 de março de 1820, Anna Sewell nasceu em uma família quacre devota. Sua mãe, Mary Wright Sewell, foi autora de livros infantis de sucesso. Sewell foi educada principalmente em casa e não foi à escola pela primeira vez até os 12 anos. Dois anos depois, ela machucou gravemente os dois tornozelos em um acidente. A partir de então, Sewell teve uma mobilidade extremamente limitada, ela precisava de muletas e nunca conseguia andar grandes distâncias.

Sewell recorreu ao uso de carruagens puxadas por cavalos para transporte. Logo ela se apaixonou por cavalos e ficou profundamente preocupada com seu tratamento humano. Essa preocupação a levou a empreender o clássico infantil Beleza Negra. Sewell assumiu o romance não para crianças, mas para aqueles que cuidavam de cavalos. Ela disse que seu "objetivo especial [era] induzir bondade, simpatia e compreensão" para com os equinos. Mas quando Sewell começou o romance em 1871, sua saúde já estava piorando. No início, ela narrou a história para a mãe. Em 1876, Sewell começou a escrever em pequenos pedaços de papel, que sua mãe transcreveria.

Sewell completado Beleza Negra em 1877, apenas cinco meses antes de ela falecer. Ela, no entanto, viveu o suficiente para desfrutar do sucesso inicial do livro. Embora Sewell tenha terminado apenas um romance durante sua vida, esse livro sobreviveu como um legado literário maravilhoso.

Sewell é um dos muitos autores lendários que publicaram apenas um romance durante sua vida. Aqui estão mais alguns exemplos de tais autores.

Edgar Allan Poe

Um dos primeiros autores americanos a abraçar o conto, Edgar Allan Poe era um mestre do suspense e do horror. Ele é creditado por originar a ficção policial e contribuir para a evolução da ficção científica. Um autor verdadeiramente prolífico, Poe foi o primeiro autor americano a ganhar a vida (embora às vezes fosse insignificante) escrevendo. No entanto, ele escreveu apenas um romance: A narrativa de Arthur Gordon Pym de Nantucket (1838). Júlio Verne mais tarde escreveria uma sequência em 1897 chamada Um Mistério Antártico, mas também conhecido como A Esfinge dos Campos de Gelo.

Emily Brontë

Como suas irmãs, Emily Brontë publicou originalmente sob um pseudônimo mais andrógino. Quando Morro dos Ventos Uivantes foi publicado em 1847, trazia o nome de Ellis Bell. O romance recebeu críticas mistas, que consideraram o livro inacreditável e até escandaloso. Em uma edição posterior, Charlotte Brontë escreveu um prefácio para o romance, defendendo o trabalho de sua irmã. Infelizmente Emily não sobreviveria para escrever outra obra-prima, ela morreu de tuberculose apenas um ano depois Morro dos Ventos Uivantes foi publicado.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde escreveu muitas peças e poesia, mas O retrato de Dorian Gray (1890) seria seu único romance. Não fez Wilde ficar amigo dos críticos literários, que chamavam o romance de "afeminado" a "impuro". Sempre ansioso para agradar, Wilde revisou o romance, mas direcionou o resto de suas energias para peças de teatro e poesia. Durante a vida de Wilde, ele seria mais conhecido por isso, mas foi Dorian Gray isso rendeu a Wilde um lugar no cânone literário.

Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell nunca quis publicar um romance, mas então um colega expressou dúvidas de que Mitchell pudesse realizar tal façanha. E o Vento Levou foi publicado em 1936, levando Mitchell ao tipo exato de fama que ela queria evitar. Ela ganhou o Prêmio Pulitzer de Ficção em 1957.

E o Vento Levou permaneceu como um dos livros mais vendidos de todos os tempos. Mitchell, que odiava estar no centro das atenções, recusou-se a publicar outro romance e teve pouco tempo para reconsiderar - ela morreu aos 49 anos, após ser atropelada por um carro. Novela dela Lost Laysen foi publicado postumamente em 1996.

Ross Lockridge, Jr

Embora Ross Lockridge Jr. ainda não tenha se tornado um nome familiar, o autor recebeu elogios consideráveis ​​por seu primeiro romance, Raintree County, publicado em 1948. O livro é frequentemente considerado um Grande Romance Americano, colocando Lockridge na ilustre companhia de autores lendários como Mark Twain e Ernest Hemingway. Raintree County superou o New York Times bestseller list and was adapted for the silver screen in 1951. But it would be Lockridge's last work he committed suicide only three months after Raintree County foi publicado.

Ralph Ellison

When Ralph Ellison published Homem invisível in 1952, it met with almost immediate acclaim. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953. Ellison continued to write, hoping to match the success of his debut novel. But in 1967, a fire in his home destroyed Ellison's second manuscript. Ellison persevered, eventually producing a new manuscript that sprawled to over 2,000 pages. After he died, the manuscript was condensed, edited, and published as Juneteenth.

Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak is remembered as a titan of twentieth-century poetry. It's no wonder that his attempt at a novel would be nothing short of spectacular — yet Dr. Zhivago (1957) was almost not published at all. The manuscript had to be smuggled out of Russia and published abroad. In 1958, Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and his latest novel certainly contributed to the Swedish committee's decision. Unfortunately the Russian government disapproved of Pasternak's perspective, and he was forced to decline the Nobel Prize under threat of punishment.

Harper Lee

Since Harper Lee published Matar a esperança in 1960, it has become one of the most popular and enduring works of American literature. The novel earned the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and consistently finds its way onto school reading lists. In 2007, Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to letters. Lee published a second novel the year before her death, but circumstances surrounding it are murky at best. Embora Go Set a Watchman was marketed by its publisher as a sequel to Lee's magnum opus, we now know it was merely a rough draft for To Kill A Mockingbird.

It's unclear why Lee never published again between Mockingbird and the release of Watchman, though she did spend several years on a novel called The Long Goodbye before abandoning the project. Lee has made another mark on literature thanks to her friendship with Truman Capote, whom she assisted in researching In Cold Blood.

John Kennedy Toole

Quando A Confederacy of Dunces was published in 1980, it earned author John Kennedy Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. The brilliant but troubled Toole had finished the novel much earlier. But the stress of consistent rejections from publishers wore on Toole, as did other aspects of his life. He committed suicide in 1969. The book was published thanks to the hard work of Toole's mother and has since been recognized as an outstanding work of twentieth-century American literature.

Whom are we missing? Share your favorite with us in the comments below, and maybe we'll feature it in a future post!


‘The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison’ Review: Staking Out His Territory

UMArguably unique in American literature, Ralph Ellison became nearly as well known for what he didn’t publish as for what he did. His towering achievement, “Invisible Man” (1952), which won the National Book Award, was Ellison’s only novel to appear during his lifetime. With that book began the literary community’s anticipation of the follow-up, an eagerness that over the decades shaded into a distant hope and then, in the end—with Ellison’s death at 81 in 1994—brought not so much disappointment as confirmation of what we had already accepted. The posthumous publication of the second novel that Ellison had worked on fitfully and for so long, first in a greatly shortened version (“Juneteenth,” 1999) and then in its mammoth, unfinished entirety (“Three Days Before the Shooting . . . ,” 2010), was anticlimactic the appearances of Ellison’s brilliant essay collections, “Shadow and Act” (1964) and “Going to the Territory” (1986), failed to satisfy those clamoring for another novel, as did the collection of his apprentice stories, “Flying Home” (1996). Nonetheless, Ellison’s eminence endured, and “Invisible Man”—like a single musical note followed by a silence that allows it to resonate—continued to engage the American imagination, and does so still.

That is, perhaps, because the novel went such a long way toward fulfilling that ever-enticing, ultimately doomed mission of defining America, with the yawing gap between the country’s vision of freedom and its unjust reality, with the surreality confronted daily by its darker-skinned people. The journey of the book’s narrator, a young black man on what he thinks is a temporary leave from college, takes him from the absurd conditions of his native Jim Crow South to a seemingly more promising life in New York there he makes his naive way inside the entities and movements that define his time, becoming first a cog in a corporate plant and then the unwitting tool of a Communist-like organization whose real aims the narrator discovers, as he discovers everything, just a little too late. If “Invisible Man” was, is, an indictment of America’s reality, it is also, in its dark, ironic, satiric way, a celebration of its grandness and its potential, as well as its tendency—often in spite of itself—to weave one culture out of many. Ellison was that rare figure who saw through the rhetoric about his nation to its reality but who also, unlike the black nationalists who came along a generation or more after Ellison, saw America’s promise as well as its tragic flaws. Perhaps the narrator of “Invisible Man” speaks for Ellison when he says near the end of the novel, “I denounce and I defend and I hate and I love.”

John F. Callahan, Ellison’s literary executor, has now given us, in collaboration with Marc C. Conner, the 1,000-plus-page “Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison.” The letters span six decades, from 1933, when Ellison was a penniless 20-year-old student at Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama, to 1993, when he was a revered, 80-year-old, New York-based man of letters. This book is a treasure. It serves in part as an alternative to the view of Ellison provided by Arnold Rampersad’s 2007 biography, a highly informative, eminently readable work that nonetheless portrayed its subject as something of a cold fish. The man who emerges from “Selected Letters” is complex and has his prickly moments but comes across, in the main, as a warm human being who valued artistic achievement, meaningful intellectual exchanges, good music, Southern cooking, a sip of whiskey and good times with old friends. And in an age when people text because they can’t be bothered with email, it is a pleasure to read the letters of one who wrote at length, thoughtfully, and with wonderful humor about everything from family stories to literature to the state of his nation to—inevitably—race.

The book is divided into six sections, one per decade, with the letters from the 1980s and ’90s collapsed into the final section. Mr. Callahan provides a general introduction to the book as well as a warm, perceptive introduction to each decade of letters. Ellison’s mother, Ida, saved his letters, cards and notes, and as a young man in New York Ellison began making copies of the letters he wrote, sometimes revising them the way others revise their fiction, essays or poems. Beginning when he was in college, the letters chart every phase of his life.

Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in 1913 in Oklahoma City. When the boy was 3, his father, who ran an ice and coal business, suffered an accident on the job: A large block of ice landed on his abdomen, aggravating an ulcer and leading to a fatal infection. From that time on, Ellison’s mother worked long hours as a domestic to support the family, which included Ralph’s younger brother. In his teens Ellison displayed a bottomless hunger for knowledge, reading the likes of George Bernard Shaw during breaks in a series of odd jobs. He also followed his passion for music: He listened, entranced, at local performances by Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and other jazz greats, and he paid $2 a week for trumpet lessons. Ellison studied the instrument at Tuskegee he left before his senior year, after the school’s music curriculum had been reduced, and made his way to New York City to work and save money as part of his plan—never realized—to return to school eventually. The morning after his arrival in New York, in July 1936, he met the African-American poet Langston Hughes and soon came to know another black writer, Richard Wright, whose novel “Native Son” would appear in 1940. With Wright’s encouragement, Ellison turned to writing prose, first a book review and then some short fiction.


Literary Executor For Ralph Ellison Reflects On Author's Life And Collection Of Letters

Before becoming the internationally recognized author of Homem invisível, Ralph Ellison grew up a precocious child in Deep Deuce, Oklahoma City. Now, a collection of his letters is available in hardback. KGOU’s Richard Bassett spoke with John Callahan, the literary executor for Ralph Ellison and one of the editors of the book. Bassett began by asking what the letters reveal about Ellison’s feelings for Oklahoma.

John Callahan: Well, he loved Oklahoma, Richard. He loved it while he was there and more and more unreservedly as he left. For example, I'd like to read a letter he writes in 1961 to a woman named Hester Holloway. She was his mother's best friend in Oklahoma City and she typifies the kind of spirit and the quality that these elders had in Oklahoma City, and that formed his life from the point he was a boy on. So he writes:

"That you were adventurous people and that you reached out for some of the joy of life. I've seen a lot of places, countries, and people from places in this society whom if somebody had told me I would grow up to know and observe I would have thought they were trying to kid me but for all of that, there are few of them who impress me as being more interesting or more human or imbued with a greater feeling for life than some of you. This has come to mean a great deal to me and I know that I've been extremely lucky to have grown up in that place and in that time and thus around you. Thanks to those like you I never had to apologize to myself, or make excuses to anyone, for being a Negro. That is much more than anything I got at Tuskegee or anywhere else. I couldn't have bought it with gold, and all that was necessary for me to get it was for you to be true to yourself."

I mean, this is Ellison writing almost 30 years after he's left Oklahoma and you can see how it's still deep in his heart.

Richard Bassett: So Ellison only completed the one novel in his lifetime, "Invisible Man." At one point, though, he lost over 200 pages of a second novel in a fire, which is really kind of to hard to fathom how he would have responded to that.

Callahan: Well, it's funny you should mention that, Richard, because a letter does the trick better than anything else. The fire and the loss of a very important chunk of the second novel grew into something of a myth in terms of the way that Ellison would refer to it. And we're very lucky that he, eight or nine days after the fire—and the fire happened in late November of 1967—and he has agreed to write a preface to this young scholar's book about culture and poverty. And so Elison sits down to write him about why he can't write the preface for the guy and he mentions the fire. And it's a brief passage that I'd like to read:

"On the late afternoon of November 29 at our home in Plainfield, Massachusetts, was destroyed by fire. The loss was particularly severe for me as a section of my work in progress was destroyed with it. I write this to say that as much as I had hoped to write the foreword to your forthcoming book, "Culture and Poverty," under the circumstances, I don't believe I can take time out now. Fortunately, much of my summer's work on the new novel is still in mind. And if my imagination can feed it, I'll be all right. But I must work quickly."

Now, that's very different than a notion that the whole novel was destroyed. It obviously hampered his work on the novel. He had difficulty really getting it back together. Two years later, in 1969, less than two years later, he has written and published probably the best thing that was published in his lifetime from the second novel. It's a magnificent piece of work called "Night Talk." So he managed to do that less than two years after the fire. So it seems to me that this letter sheds light on the notion that the novel was giving Ellison fits long before the fire. Did the fire hurt his efforts? Yeah, yeah, it did. But it didn't comply entirely disable him. I think other literary problems were at the core of his inability to finish the novel. He had, he didn't make certain decisions about what to cut. He talks at the same time in 1969, he talks to the young writer Jim McPherson. They're collaborating on a wonderful essay interview called "Indivisible Man." And Ellison is talking to McPherson in his apartment in New York and is surrounded by all of his manuscripts and typed scripts. And he starts pulling them out and he says to McPherson, I could publish three volumes. I have the material for three novels. But I'm trying to integrate all this material into one. Now, that was in 1969 and I found when I was going through editing "Juneteenth," and then also doing this scholarly edition of the novel that came out in 2010, that these distinct narratives were still there, but he never did completed one and never completed the other two and never knit the three of them together.

Bassett: Despite only completing the one novel, Ellison is rightfully regarded as a literary giant through his stories, essays, and these letters. It's really an extraordinary collection that offers a look at a disappearing craft. Tell us a little bit about his letter-writing process and what letter writing meant to Ralph Ellison.

Callahan: Well, it damn near meant everything to him. He writes Richard Wright in 1953—January 53—about the hiatus in his letter writing. He hadn't written many letters since sometime in 1948 or 1949 because he was on the home stretch of "Invisible Man." So, he writes to Dick Wright in January of 1953. And he just flat out says somewhere along the way, I've flat out lost the joy of corresponding. And he goes on to say that there was a time when he never felt as much himself as when he was writing letters, and he doesn't know why that pleasure, that joy has gone away. Now, that's in early 1953. But he gets it back . The wonderful thing is he gets it back and from then on the decade of the fifties has twice as many letters as any other decade.

Bassett: It was fun to read about his interactions with other notable 20th century writers and artists like Richard Wright, as you just mentioned, and William "Bill" Faulkner. Are there any interesting stories in the collection that you'd like to share that readers might be drawn to?

Callahan: Well, it's interesting because one of the correspondences that seems to me to be really as important as any other is Saul Bellow. Ellison and Bellow had a real affinity as friends. There is an amusing story about the letter he writes to Faulkner. I think it's in 1957. And few people knew this. I didn't really know this until I came across the letter. There's a kind of writing, or Association of American Writers. And Faulkner for a while is charged with writing the other writers and to ask him to do this or that. There's a situation in 1957 where a number of writers and artists and various people get together and petition Eisenhower, who's president then, to release Ezra Pound from his confinement in St. Elizabeth's mental hospital. There were two people, two American writers who oppose this, one Ellison, and Bellow was the other. And Ellison writes to Faulkner, who's asked him for it to do a couple of things, and he says, I'm fine with this and that, but I'm not fine with your petition to the president about Ezra Pound. And he goes on to say how much he admires Pound's poetry. But he feels that Pound's actions in World War II, wherefrom fascist Italy he makes these recordings that are vicious things. Not only against Jews, but also against black people. And and he says to Faulkner, look, if Pound and his views had triumphed, I wouldn't be here to write you this letter. So he says, doesn't mean I don't love his poetry, that I haven't admired and gotten a lot from his poetry, but it seems to me that the punishment that he's serving is just. That was Ellison. You know, what he believed he was prepared to go with.

Bassett: So one of the most fascinating things about this collection is that it does provide a window into American history. The letters span, you know, 60 years of the 20th century from the 1930s to the 1990s.

Callahan: Ellison's letters have both a timely and a timeless quality to them. And in our culture there is a sense that every moment is utterly different from every other moment. And that's true. But some of the values that we have or don't have, certainly some of the values that Ralph Ellison had, remained constant. That's not to say they remain unchanging, but there's a fundamental quality and truth to them. And you mentioned American history . In one such cases, he writes a letter to his old teacher—the guy was the librarian while he was at Tuskegee—Morteza Sprague. And he writes it two days after the Supreme Court hands down the Brown v. Board decision. He writes it on May 19th, 1954, and he writes it about the decision declaring segregation unconstitutional and declaring integration as the law of the land. And I think I will read some of that letter:

"Well so now the court has found in our favor and recognized our human psychological complexity and citizenship. And another battle of the Civil War has been won. The rest is up to us and I'm very glad. The decision came while I was reading "A Stillness at Appomattox," and a study of the "Negro Freedman" and it made a heightening of emotion and a telescoping of perspective, yes, and a sense of the problems that lie ahead left me wet-eyed. I could see the whole road stretched out and it got all mixed up with this book I'm trying to write and it left me twisted with joy and a sense of inadequacy. Why did I have to be a writer during a time when events sneer openly at your efforts defying consciousness and form? Well, so now the judges have found Negroes must be individuals and that is hopeful and good. What a wonderful world of possibilities are unfolded for the children! For me there is still the problem of making meaning out of the past and I guess I'm lucky I described Bledsoe before he was checked out. Now I'm writing about the evasion of identity that is another characteristically American problem that must be about to change. I hope so. It's giving me enough trouble."

And then he ends with this wonderful mock toast to Sprague:

"Anyway, here's to integration, the only integration that counts: that of the personality. See you soon, Ralph."

So he gets out a whole lot there. And it seems to me he talks about that decision and he's very much aware of some of the ambiguities, not about the decision itself, but about the consequences and effects that that decision will have. And one of them that disturbed him, and actually Toni Morrison in very similar ways, is the way that carefully built and nourished communities of African-Americans, black people, especially the teachers who couldn't find positions anywhere but Negro schools, which were segregated, and they had given their wonderful gifts to the black students they taught. And in many sections of the country, many school districts that got wiped out. And they, you know, some black kids were integrated into white schools, but they didn't bring any teachers with them, you know. And then, his point did that integration of the personality, that integration, really is work every single last person has got to do. And that is incredibly tied to integration of races in America. It's a very moving letter. It makes me tongue-tied.

Bassett: There is this line in the introduction of the book where you write that Ralph Ellison's story is an African-American variation of the American dream.

Callahan: Certo. Here he is. He's a kid. He's growing up and in Oklahoma City and he loses his father when he's three years old and his mother must become a domestic. They're very, very poor. He's obviously a gifted child and he takes up music. But he's also in many ways, he's really got to understand solitude. So you say, well, here he is, these are the cards he was dealt. But Oklahoma City is a very key place for jazz during the 20s and when Ellison's growing up early 30s. And he really loves jazz. He sneaks around to some of the jazz joints and hides in the shadows and listens to Jimmy Rushing. He listens to Basie's orchestra. He hears Louis Armstrong a couple of times and never forgets what he sounded like then. And so, you know, he has his dreams and he talks about his friends and him. He calls Renaissance, we were Renaissance men, men, Renaissance boys. And they all had their dreams. They all had their aspirations and their ambitions. And he kept at it and left Oklahoma City to go to Tuskegee, where he got other chances. And he went there determined to be a composer and a musician. And that didn't work. But he seized on writing and he became a writer. And it was a dream that was, that was his, but it was connected to what was to the possibilities in American life.

Bassett: So, I am curious about your experience putting this collection together. Did you learn anything new about Ellison or what his perspective offers, or what was the emotional experience like for you doing this project?

Callahan: Reading the letters just gives me a sense of the richness of this guy's consciousness. And there's another point when Harvard asks him to address the 25th reunion of its class of 1949. So this would have been in '74. And Ellison gives an address and this is right at about the time of . Nixon hasn't yet resigned . but all the wealthier of chaos that went with that time is still very much present. And he talks about hubris as being an American characteristic. And he reminds these graduates of Harvard that hubris almost inevitably leads to nemesis. So then he says, so what are we to do now? How do we live today? What kinds of qualities do we Americans need? And then he says, I guess the best I can say is we ought to go back to that earlier Ralph Waldo, meaning Ralph Waldo Emerson. And that we need conscience, more conscience and more consciousness. And then he adds a word into this. He says we need conscience and conscientious consciousness. So I learned that about him, just how the man was conscious from day to day. And then many other things. I mean, I knew, of course, I'd been to Oklahoma a number of times, I knew that he was fond of Oklahoma, but I did not know how deep and profound his love for Oklahoma City was, aware, as he was, of the limitations of Jim Crow, Oklahoma. Also aware of the way that the people in the black community, in Deep Deuce, were so rich as human beings. And you can't miss that reading the letters.

Bassett: Who should read this collection and what do you hope people take away from it?

Callahan: There is a human being. There's a man. There's a human being. And, particularly in these times, by God, there's an American. That's what we need to be. We need to bring the kind of humanity and compassion and brilliance and risk, bravery, to our lives as we lead them, as we're conscious and as we go through life and experience things and our citizens. We need more of his conscientious consciousness.

Bassett: So as someone that knew Ellison well, what do you think he would say about 21st century America?

Callahan: Oh, I can tell you what he'd say. Every time I saw him in person or talked to him on the phone, he said the same damn thing. He said, "God, John. It's a crazy country." And he said that with what he might call a sanity-saving comedy. He didn't say that in horror, or being aghast or the world is going to collapse and is gonna be destroyed and he's gonna cease to exist in a half an hour. He had a sense of . America was a tragic-comic place with a tragic-comic experience. And for Ralph, that comedy, and he talks about it, writes a letter to McPherson where he says, you know, we've got to keep our sense of black comedy because it keeps us sane. I mean, he believed we had to laugh. He said if Americans stop laughing at each other, they're going to start killing each other. A guerra civil. And he, Ellison, believed in some ways the Civil War was never over, not yet over entirely in America. So it seems to me, again, there's a sense of, he insisted on a complexity. So what he is, you know, what do you expect? It's a crazy country. So he loved the country and he was impatient at much of the country, angry at the things of the country, but also joyous about much in American life. And he still would be.

Bassett: You think so?

Callahan: Yes, I do. Because the other side of that coin, it's a crazy, in other words, we can't deal with America without realizing it's a crazy country. And that word crazy, you know, turns and spins a lot of ways. It's not just a horror. There's horror and darkness, and lack of compassion and viciousness. But there's also compassion and generosity, and all these things mix and have mixed. And again, the guy just had a tremendous sense of life, a tremendous sense of vitality and curiosity. You know . that's one of the reasons . I was with him his last days. I was with him when he died. And I remember him saying, why, John? And then, as if he was afraid I might not understand what he meant, he said, I don't mean why, I mean why now. He knew he was dying. It was why now. And what he had to come to grips with was not just simply death, but dying now, dying in April, April 16th, 1994. You know, and he had to develop in a very short time a certain readiness to die because he was so curious about what was happening in himself, around him, in the country, in New York City, down in the park and he wanted to be a part of it.


The Jazz of Ralph Ellison

It is too difficult and twistingly deep to start from the beginning, when the great man, Ralph Ellison, was young and lived to put words on paper. When he was suddenly made comfortable and well-off from that staggering first novel, Invisible Man, and then went, you might say, underground. For four decades, he tried to get his second book written and published. But the chasm only got deeper for him. And it’s easy to say it was the jazz and the Harlem nights and the stares and whispers and literary gossip that stalled him.

Ninguém sabe ao certo. Call it the mystery of Ralph Ellison.

Call it the obsession of two Lewis & Clark scholars who formed a bond at the college and went on to devote more than a decade of their lives to the great writer’s unfinished novel. The result of John Callahan’s and Adam Bradley’s editing prowess has now been published, by the esteemed Modern Library imprint, as Three Days Before the Shooting. An eccentric and voluminous work (1,000- plus pages), it is a kind of investigative look into Ellison’s mindset, a writer long thought to be, not unlike Harper Lee with Matar a esperança, a one-book wonder.

Yes, Ellison wrote essays and short stories, but the public wanted, demanded, insisted on a follow-up to Invisible Man. He made them wait, and wait, and then the breath went out of him. (A posthumous work, Décima quinta, was edited by Callahan and published in 1999, and while many admired it, many did not, claiming it was still an unfinished work.)

The critics have weighed in on Três dias, among them the staff at Booklist, calling the book “eloquent, dreamlike … allegorical, lyrical.” The long-awaited opus—eccentric, quirky, bold: not unlike Ellison himself, to judge from the biographies— comes face-to-face with the great mystery of Ellison: why he could not get his next novel finished and out to the public why he seemed to deny himself a Second Act in American Letters.

Why he, in fact, allowed a great guessing game to take place in the literary world about his work.

But let’s start in another place—that place where research and document combing and reading and sifting through old handwritten letters started to coalesce into a new piece of jazz.

Writers and researchers from the world over travel to Washington, D.C., to tackle their respective projects inside the James Madison Memorial Building, which houses the Library of Congress. It’s a huge place of wooden desks and lamplight and hushed-up voices.

During the summer of 2007, I was a couple of years into my own writing project, a biography of the prizefighter Sugar Ray Robinson. (Ellison used to pop in and out of Robinson’s hepcat nightclub in Harlem, called Sugar Ray’s.)

Inside the Madison, you sit in rooms reading old newspapers on microfilm, or sit at a workspace waiting for this or that obscure book to be delivered by one of the staffers, or sit there worrying about whether you’re making any real progress on your project. Then, invariably before the clock strikes noon, you start wondering what’s for lunch in the cafeteria down the long hallway, where a group of mostly soft-voiced black women work. On many days the offerings tend toward the Southern: black-eyed peas, cornbread, cabbage, chicken.

It was in the Madison cafeteria that I first met Adam Bradley BA ’96. Tall, light-complexioned, quick to smile, he wouldn’t tell me what he was working on. “It’s a secret project,” he said. “I can’t talk about it.”

I’ve worked as a newspaperman for 20-odd years when he told me his project was secret, he might as well have thrown a piece of red meat to a tiger. I pounced with questions. He grinned me away, changed the subject, upon which I circled back to it. As the days passed, I’d run into him in the hallways, still begging for any information on what he was working on.

I imagine I wore him down.

“It’s a project involving Ralph Ellison,” he said one day. He had been dispatched to the Library of Congress by John Callahan, Odell Professor of Humanities at Lewis & Clark—and the literary executor of Ellison’s estate. So a pebble had been dropped into the lake before me, and the little waves kept washing ashore in the days ahead.

It soon became clear that Ellison wasn’t suffering from writer’s block he was, rather, a writer afire: he wrote and wrote and wrote.

Not long thereafter we had lunch in the sunshine at a little café across the street from the Madison Building. Bradley then began confiding to me he was working, along with John Callahan, on the literary remains of Ralph Ellison’s second novel. And there was a mystery: how come Ralph Ellison was never able to complete another novel after Homem invisível? I was fascinated. When I went home that evening, I pulled out my copy of Homem invisível. Yes, I now suddenly wondered: What had happened to Ralph Ellison? What had he been doing for all those years? Bradley said he and Callahan had been combing through the Ellison archives for years—nearly 13 at that moment, which I found astonishing— doing a good deal of that work on the Lewis & Clark campus.

Ellison died on April 16, 1994, at age 80, in his Manhattan apartment. It seemed that what the world wanted from the National Book Award–winning author—his second novel—died with him. But now here sat Adam Bradley, working closely with John Callahan, telling me the two of them had a bead on what had happened inside the artistic world of Ralph Ellison through the years. I knew of Ellison, but now I really wanted to know: Who in the world is Adam Bradley? And who is John Callahan? And how did they come to be dropped into this complex literary score? And what were they finding in it— inside all those pages and Ellisonian riffs?

It is a compelling story that cuts across race and literature and that turns on that peculiar human connection between hero and admirer in one generation, and advocate and student in another.

In 1977 John Callahan—energetic, voluble, curious—was teaching literature at Lewis & Clark. Like many, he had fallen under the hypnotic spell of Homem invisível. When that novel was published, Ellison was mostly unknown in the literary world, save by an intellectual crowd including the likes of novelist Saul Bellow, novelist Robert Penn Warren, and poet Langston Hughes.

Critics hailed Homem invisível for its bravery, originality, and sweeping prose. The book’s narrator was unnamed, and the theme of the book revolved around the plight of blacks in America and the titanic scars inflicted by stereotyping. The reviews were mighty with praise there were literary honors there were feature stories in publications for a time Ellison was the most famous Negro writer (the term used then) in America. He soon announced he was at work on his next book. He had readers willing to wait both in America and abroad. And wait they were forced to do. The years began to roll by—5 then 10, 10 then 15—and still no second novel.

Callahan did what academics mesmerized by a certain kind of book— a book that gets studied, constantly debated, and called a classic—sometimes do: he taught it and even wrote about it. His 1977 essay, “Chaos, Complexity, and Possibility: The Historical Frequencies of Ralph Waldo Ellison,” did not go unnoticed by Ellison himself. The novelist soon invited Callahan to visit him in New York City. The two formed a lasting and soulful friendship. They shared meals and sipped wine together and talked about the world of academia. Ellison’s wife, Fanny, came to admire Callahan. Upon the writer’s death in 1994, Fanny Ellison named Callahan literary executor of Ellison’s estate.

And yet, what would a literary executor do regarding an author with one full-length novel—albeit a novel with defying endurance—in his canon? The boulder at the bottom of the hill was always the second novel. In Fanny’s mind, that meant the voluminous papers and drafts Ellison had left behind—the work-in-progress that was to be the second novel. It would be her husband’s follow-up gift to the world.

Fanny Ellison had the boxes shipped to Callahan at Lewis & Clark. And the boxes just kept coming—filled with scribbled notes, thousands of typed pages, and 80 old computer discs—an accumulation of material that Ellison had hoarded over decades. It soon became clear that Ellison wasn’t suffering from writer’s block he was, rather, a writer afire: he wrote and wrote and wrote, an exacting man with a terrifying belief that his second novel must be as grand, and grandly received, as his first —or perhaps more so.

So there stood, on the Lewis & Clark campus, a harried professor with Ellison materials raining down upon him. He needed help. A curious and nimble mind was called for a pair of coltish legs wouldn’t hurt either.

Sometimes, in literature, the stars align just so: Perhaps a nomadic writer working against the backdrop of a segregated America is bold enough to proclaim he intends to write a Great American Novel. And damned if Ralph Ellison doesn’t pull it off.

And then the stars aligned again. Enter a young student who arrived at Lewis & Clark in 1992 from Salt Lake City. White mother and black father. Haunted, but not in a frightful way, by his multiracial background. He struck many as a precocious student, a reader, and a worker. The professor took notice of the student. He befriended him and, sensing something arresting about his background, introduced him to the works of the writer who had cracked open the discussion of race in America all those years ago.

While he was growing up, Adam Bradley found his father to be a mystery. Ellison’s own father had died when Ralph was a young boy. “Be your own father,” Ellison once wrote. Easily uttered and hard to fathom. John Callahan—who had issues with his own father too—plucked Bradley from the student body and tested the young man’s curiosity about America and history and literature. Then the professor told the student about his Ellison project. Bradley jumped at it. He was all of 19 years old.

The project would stretch into years. Bradley and Callahan pored through the Ellison archives, trying to piece together, as best they could, the mystery of Ellison’s tortuous timetable. They measured Ellison’s output—as well as his lack of output while tinkering with 1980s-era computers—and delved into his creative mind.

So it comes down to being the story of two men, a young scholar and an older scholar, a black man and a white man, operating for a common purpose.

Initially, Bradley thought the project was drudgery, riffling through boxes and poring over the contents of folders. But over time, he found the process fascinating. He spent years stitching together clues about Ellison’s work habits. He had sessions with Callahan about a writer at work who had hit some kind of wall. He pondered the riddle of what Ellison’s switch from typewriter to computer seemed to do to his psyche. And yet, as I sat with Bradley at the Library of Congress, asking him about his own life, it came to me that—perhaps unknowingly at the time—he was searching for his own identity. He himself, in a way, is an Ellisonian figure for the 21st century.

So it comes down to being the story of two men, a young scholar and an older scholar, a black man and a white man, operating for a common purpose.

Both Bradley and Callahan have put their respective life histories into this mammoth work, each gleaning from Ellison, it now seems, lessons about art, perseverance, and the folly of perfection.

Três dias is not, in the least, a linear novel as both Bradley and Callahan have explained, it is an amalgam of artistic ambition. Readers will take from it what they will. It is Ellison scratching out the beautiful music he made in the dark. It is Ellison at war with words.

On a wintry February night in the nation’s capital—baby, it’s cold outside, as Ellison himself might have put it— some hardy souls are sitting in an auditorium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Adam Bradley and John Callahan are on stage talking about their just-released Ellison chronicle. It is a book about race and an American politician and an assassination. They talk about differing versions of Ellison chapters, how he changed gears and wrote anew, trying to perfect a character’s outlines. Audience members sit riveted. There are questions and questions. It turns into a fascinating riff between the two men about America, President Obama, loyalties, the passage of time, a redemptive novel published back in 1952.

It seems rather fortuitous to both Callahan and Bradley that Three Days has been published in the time of Obama. For if one chooses to reflect on what America has done with his election—a nation bloodied by slavery now anointing a black man as its leader—it represents a leap both moving and profound. It’s a moment, the two editors believe, that Ellison himself could have envisioned. They called him a visionary writer, a figure who never stopped wrestling with race all the while hearing the optimistic notes on the American score. The Ellison mystery, then, seems to represent but Ellison in motion, like America herself.

“I think this book will bring about a profound shift in the study of Ellison,” Bradley asserts.

“Ellison,” says Callahan, “will now be seen in the round.”

Both editors have now turned their attention to other work. Callahan, on sabbatical from Lewis & Clark, is trying to finish The Learning Room, his second novel, whose hero is a 5-year-old autistic child—an invisible boy, perhaps. Bradley, who completed his doctorate at Harvard, is now an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

In May, Yale University will publish Bradley’s next book, titled Ralph Ellison in Progress. The book is dedicated to the professor who saw him, all those years ago, striding across campus amid the fir trees: “To John F. Callahan—On the Higher Frequencies.”

It’s a nice touch by Bradley. It also has echoes.

Callahan dedicated his 1988 book, In the African-American Grain, “To Ralph Ellison—on the superior frequencies.”

Both dedications, of course, are a nod to Ellison, who had written of those who dwell on “the lower frequencies”—where the mind might not soar as high, where ambitions are often laid to waste, where dreams lie unfulfilled. Yet Ellison, even as his America moved forward in fits and starts, through the smoke of riots and assassinations, believed. He believed in the higher form of art where literature might be produced.

And on a cold night in the nation’s capital, as two scholars of different races, of different generations, discussed Ellison’s work, we were all in tune with the higher frequencies.

Wil Haygood is a staff writer for the Washington Post and the author, most recently, of Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson.


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