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Ralph Ellison: Emergence of a Genius. (nonfiction reviews).

Ralph Ellison: Emergence of a Genius by Lawrence Jackson John Wiley & Sons, November 2001, $30.00, ISBN 0-471-35414-7

The mere mention of the name Ralph Ellison brings feelings of awe and respect, not just for his seminal novel Invisible Man, but also for the incredible insight and craft shown in his numerous essays and commentaries. This first biography of Ellison by Dr. Lawrence Jackson, assistant professor of English at Howard University, examines the personal and professional life of the private, gentle intellectual giant. In a determined effort to uncover how the genius was born, Jackson chronicles Ellison's early years from his hardscrabble roots in Oklahoma to the tragic death of his father to the writer's youthful struggle to find his artistic calling. This is expertly done, with just the right note of analysis and emotion.

Jackson accurately captures the sense of wonder, ambition and creativity that pushed the young writer toward greatness. Readers are introduced to Ellison's Tuskegee college days, his first serious attempts at writing and his first ventures into the New York artistic scene. Jackson is very careful not to depict the cultural icon without flaws or defects. He does not ignore the psychological complexities of Ellison, who was not the drab, neutered literary lion some critics made him out to be.

Although the book ends with the glory days following the publication of his masterpiece, Invisible Man, there is a wealth of information and revelations within its chapters--the stellar achievements, the bitter conflicts and the occasionally fragile unity of the post-World War II writing community that included Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Chester Himes. While there may be some disappointment at the abrupt end of the book, some consolation may be gained from the fact that another more comprehensive biography of Ellison is forthcoming from master biographer Arnold Rampersad, who was selected by the writer's estate to do the job.

Well-researched and written, Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius is a very capable portrait of one of the finest writers this country has ever produced. It is a book that will inspire anyone tackling the challenge of a blank page.

Robert Fleming, the author of The Wisdom of the Elders and The African American Writer's Handbook, is currently finishing a novel and awaiting the publication of his first collection of short stories next year.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Fleming, Robert
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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