cover image The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison

The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison

Edited by John F. Callahan and Marc C. Conner. Random House, $50 (1,056p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9852-8

Callahan, Ellison’s literary executor, and Conner (The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered, editor), offer a generous edition of the Invisible Man author’s previously unpublished letters from 1933 to 1993. Arranged by decades, the book traces Ellison’s path from college student to budding writer, renowned author, and elder statesman, with Callahan providing compact but informative introductions to each segment. The letters’ recipients are diverse: Some are family—notably, Ellison’s mother, Ida­—while others are old friends from his birthplace, Oklahoma City, and college friends from his alma mater, Tuskegee Institute, with whom he remained in touch even as his circle grew to encompass such well-known writers as Langston Hughes and Saul Bellow. Ellison’s many letters to Richard Wright and Albert Murray are the most intimate, about matters personal, professional, and political. He candidly discusses with Wright, in August 1945, his break with the Communist Party, and in June 1951, updates Murray on the progress of Invisible Man, writing: “I cut out 200 pages myself and got it down to 606.” The collection also touches on Ellison’s second, never-finished novel, and on the devastating 1967 fire which destroyed much of it. A splendid, indeed exemplary, collection, this is a remarkable historic document crafted with great scholarly acumen. [em]Agent: Jacqueline Ko, Wylie Agency. (Dec.) [/em]