Authors We Love: Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison | Biography, Books, & Facts | Britannica

Ellison was born in Oklahoma city, Oklahoma, on March 1, 1914. He was named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous American writer and poet of the 19th century, and his father wanted him to be a poet, too. He lost his father at the age of three and grew up in a poor family. He loved music, especially jazz, and decided to be a musician. After high school, he won a scholarship to study music at the Tuskegee Institute, a black college. Because of scholarship problems, he had to go to New York after his junior year of college. He originally intended to earn some money to continue his studies, but he ended up staying in New York, where he started his literary career with the help and influence of the famous black poet Langston Hughes and the novelist Richard Wright, among others. In his early years, he mainly wrote critical articles and published two collections of essays, “Shadow and Act” and “Going to the Territory”, which elaborated his views on literature, music and the political and social life of African Americans. In 1952, the novel “Invisible Man” was published after seven years of careful creation.

The novel described the psychological maturity of a black youth in a society full of apartheid and racial discrimination, which belongs to the genre of growth fiction. Apart from the overture and epilogue, the novel can be divided into three parts: life at a black southern college, experiences in New York’s freedom paint factory, and experiences in Harlem. The novel is a combination of realism, naturalism, expressionism and surrealism. It expresses complex and profound themes through seemingly simple plots, especially the use of a large number of symbols, so that the novel can be understood from different levels and perspectives. Although he did not publish the second part of the novel for various reasons, his creative activities never ceased. After he died, his literature executors published Ellison’s second novel “Juneteenth”.

Mr. Ellison has been criticized for his advocacy of racial integration, cultural diversity, his lack of direct involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Aesthetically, his main point is that “novelists should take moral responsibility for democracy”. His novels are devoted to changing the traditional stereotype of black people and reshaping their humanity. Ellison won the National Book Award in 1953 and 1965 and received the U.S. Medal of Freedom and was accepted as a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences.

-Coreen C.

The works of Ralph Ellison are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Authors We Love: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison | Biography, Books, & Facts | Britannica

Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931 — August 5, 2019) was an American writer and writer who was born in Lorain, Ohio. She graduated from Howard university. Coming to the literary scene in the late 1960s, her works were fiery, brief and poetic, and she was known for her acute observations of black life in America. Her major works include The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1974), Song of Solomon (1977), and Tar Baby (1981). She became a professor at Princeton university in 1989 and won the Nobel Prize of literature in 1993. In all of Morrison’s works, one of the greatest costs of the black character’s rebellion against fate is family and kinship. For African American slaves, staying away from home and maintaining family ties was the result of their intelligence and tenacity. It also meant emotional and spiritual sustenance. Therefore, the loss of “family”, a precious treasure, as a result of the rebellion against the fate, has been a helpless sigh for the fate of black people in Morrison’s works.

How to heal the long-accumulated historical wounds in the hearts of black citizens and get rid of their misunderstanding of themselves— an urgent problem related to the destiny and future of the black nation, has led Toni Morrison to ponder. After careful consideration, Morrison realized that to completely change America’s perception of black people, we must find a real solution to make the nation be more receptive and welcoming, so that the whole nation clearly and consciously accepts African Americans as part of its whole. Therefore, on the question of exploring racial equality, Morrison put forward the idea of reclaiming the black cultural heritage. This in itself encourages the writer to heal the psychological trauma in many African Americans and help them to be hopeful and proud of their lineage again.

The works of Toni Morrison are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They may also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Image result for giovanni's room

Another masterpiece written by African American author James Baldwin revolving around the theme of homosexuality and bisexuality. At first I was really abashed by the outright description of the characters and the erotic actions they commit, but then I realized that here the message James Baldwin wanted to convey was the high sense of reality our world and society currently needs but avoids for most of the time.

This novel attempted to tell us that not all people are the same. Especially for those homosexual people, it is a stab in the heart when they realized their sexual preference and will face the problem of confiding and admitting this fact to their friends and family, which at the same time they have to prepare against any antagonism from any outside forces. They will be condemned for their difference, but that won’t stunt them from pursuing their passion and maintaining faith in themselves.

Hella and David loved each other. However, when Hella was away David falls in deep love with Giovanni and he returns this love. But then Hella comes back, and David numbs his true feelings but telling himself that he mustn’t leave Hella, which resulted in the loss and imprisonment of Giovanni. Nevertheless, Hella and David break apart at last and David can no longer reunite with Giovanni anymore as a criminal who will be sentenced to death for murder. This taught me a lesson-never deny your real identity and embrace it, for later on right after your denouncement of yourself you will never be YOU again, but merely a wandering soul residing in a live corpse sharing the same name.

-Coreen C. 

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library