Ralph Ellison, The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (New York: The Modern Library, 2003.)
When I think of Ralph Ellison, I think of The Invisible Man. I suspect that it is the only thing that he wrote that I remembered reading enough to associate with his name. But as I read the collected essays, I did recognize that I had previously read magazine articles that he had written. This collection, however, goes far beyond a group of magazine articles. It is a rather complete look at race, racism, and the struggle for increased equality that marked the civil rights movement of the late 20th Century. Ellison is so much more than a fiction writer. He is a brilliant researcher and an able commentator on the works of others. His astute analysis gives perspective on the turbulent times through which we lived.
More importantly, Ellison’s work gives some perspective on the ongoing conversations about race in America today. Too often we forget that the tensions and challenges of our generation are set in a specific historical place. Becoming aware of the events that have led up to our time helps us to check to see if our progress is truly going forward, or rather keeping time or even going backward.
This is an excellent volume and well worth the time to read. I’m keeping my copy to refer to in the future. I suspect that not only is it timely to read these essays in our time, it may well be so a couple of decades from now as well.