A Tribe of His Own
In his biography of Ralph Ellison, Arnold Rampersand accuses the author of turning away from the reality of black life.
by Arnold Rampersad
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In early April 1968, Ralph Ellison took part in a literary festival hosted by the University of Notre Dame, where he joined the likes of Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and William F. Buckley Jr. on the program. When he took the stage on the evening of the sixth to deliver his remarks, the moment could not have been more charged. The nation was in crisis: Two days earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated; across the country, cities had exploded in scenes that seemed uncannily to mirror the apocalyptic final sections of Invisible Man, still one of the handful of truly indispensable American novels. But there would be no resounding statement or mournful eulogy; instead, Ellison talked about the function of the novel in American democracy.
It was a signature Ellisonian gesture, perhaps too
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