Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Invisible Manuscript
August 20, 2007 12:28 PM   Subscribe

The Invisible Manuscript. An interesting account of Ralph Ellison's struggle to write a second novel after Invisible Man, and the work his literary executor, John Callahan, is doing to produce Three Days Before the Shooting, a Modern Library edition of the second novel based on Ellison's work. (Callahan edited Juneteenth from a subset of this material.) [more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (20 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Online chat with the writer of the Post article.

Did Ralph Ellison's Osborne 1 hurt his literary career?

Kurtis Davidson's What the Shadow Told Me is a satire about "Rufus Walter Eddison" and his struggle to produce a second novel.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:29 PM on August 20, 2007


Here's an interesting New Yorker article about Ellison and his struggle to finish his second novel. Definitely worth a glance.

According to Rampersad [an Ellison biographer], two handymen showed up in the afternoon to replace some doors on the toolshed. The Ellisons left to run some errands. Returning home after the handymen had gone, they saw smoke billowing from their house. The manuscript of “Juneteenth” was destroyed in the fire. In the years that followed, Rampersad writes, Ellison and his wife “soon fell back reflexively on the fire when asked about the delay” with the second novel. At one point, Fanny even blamed the blaze on racist arsonists. On other occasions, she spoke about having to be “restrained by firemen from rushing into the burning house to rescue the manuscript, which she could see clearly, so very clearly, through a window as the flames closed in.” It is uncertain how much of the book had been written when it was lost, but the tragedy became the defining event of the latter part of Ellison’s life.
posted by billysumday at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2007


I'm intrigued, but I have to say that I read Juneteenth when it came out and was pretty underwhelmed. Needless to say the structure was poor (and kind of bloated), but even the writing was just so-so. It was, of course, of historical interest, but couldn't hold a candle to Invisible Man. Mostly I felt sad as I read it.

I'm skeptical of a longer version.
posted by OmieWise at 1:10 PM on August 20, 2007


I'm a Ellison fetishist who didn't really care for Juneteenth, but then, as Orson Welles once said, you only need one.

excellent post, sadly lacking in youtube links but excellent nonetheless
posted by matteo at 1:42 PM on August 20, 2007


Is this the place to stage a debate over whether Invisible Man is better than Beloved?

A good article at the front. See also the WaPo online chat with Haygood and Bradley which was at noon.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:43 PM on August 20, 2007


Is this the place to stage a debate over whether Invisible Man is better than Beloved?

Invisible Man, no contest.

Also, I wrote my Masters thesis on a CP/M machine, and it worked just fine. In those days, the games just couldn't distract you from the task in the way that they can today.

Except for maybe the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and The Leather Goddess of Phobos.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:51 PM on August 20, 2007


We know it took Ellison a very long time to compelete and publish Invisible Man. We know an editor salvaged Junteen and that this second novel was much less successful. We can wait till there is a published new novel to make judgement. Till that time, the interest here is in the digging, combing, restoration process going on with what Ellison had left. Ellison has also of course some short stories and some non-fiction worth reading, still.
posted by Postroad at 2:53 PM on August 20, 2007


Ah, good 'ol Leather Goddesses of Phobos... sorry, what?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:58 PM on August 20, 2007


Also, I find it staggering that you can actually earn enough money and literary reputation from a single book, so much that you never have to work again in your life.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:01 PM on August 20, 2007


I still get a little nervous whenever anyone mentions The Invisible Man. I was supposed to write a 14 page paper on it for my senior high school english class, and as of Monday the week it was due I had read less than one fifth of the book. I just could not slog through it.

Then the entire city flooded, and I got to graduate without writing the paper (or taking any finals, for that matter). But for months I had dreams about my diploma being taken away until I turned in that )*@#$*() paper.
posted by flaterik at 3:19 PM on August 20, 2007


I'm actually re-reading Invisible Man right now. I can't get too excited by another "found" work though.

Like Postroad said, his essays are really great. What's so wrong with hitting one out of the park on your first try?
posted by bardic at 3:20 PM on August 20, 2007


/pedant-filter -- It's Invisible Man, not H. G. Well's The Invisible Man.
posted by bardic at 3:22 PM on August 20, 2007


Ellison is perhaps the most overrated one-hit wonder...if not Harper Lee. Any writer that struggles that long isn't much of a writer, or at least they are a writer with nothing to say.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2007


That was a pretty great feature from the WaPo. I'll admit it, maybe it's the polisci dork in me, but I'm interested in how the tools he used shaped the story. This seems like it'd be a perfect thing to develop a web app for, letting you compare different versions (with different continuities and phrasings).
posted by klangklangston at 4:17 PM on August 20, 2007


"Ellison is perhaps the most overrated one-hit wonder...if not Harper Lee."

No, that's either Salinger or that chick that wrote The Outsiders.

"Any writer that struggles that long isn't much of a writer, or at least they are a writer with nothing to say."

Stephen King's the best writer ever, then?
posted by klangklangston at 4:22 PM on August 20, 2007


klangklangston Stephen King's the best writer ever, then?

He is a brilliant writer. Any discussion of "best ever" will always lean toward the subjective. Excluding non-English writers, I would count King in the top 50 with ease. He is also a master of what many novelists forget: story. He won't get much respect from the literary elite until after he is long dead. If they ever get over the "bestselling= evil" mindset.


No, that's either Salinger or that chick that wrote The Outsiders.

Would Salinger count as a one-hit wonder? I know Catcher and the Rye is without equal concerning sales, but Franny and Zooey seemed popular at the time (when published in book form).
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 4:44 PM on August 20, 2007


"He is a brilliant writer. Any discussion of "best ever" will always lean toward the subjective. Excluding non-English writers, I would count King in the top 50 with ease. He is also a master of what many novelists forget: story. He won't get much respect from the literary elite until after he is long dead. If they ever get over the "bestselling= evil" mindset."

Bullshit. He's a prolific and capable writer, but his plots are thin, his frequent use of multiple viewpoints works better in film than in novels, and he's been coasting FOR YEARS. You might as well toss Dean Koontz on your list.
posted by klangklangston at 5:14 PM on August 20, 2007


"Ellison is perhaps the most overrated one-hit wonder...if not Harper Lee."

No, that's either Salinger or that chick that wrote The Outsiders.


The latter, no question.

Ellison took an incredibly long time to write his novels because he was a perfectionist, and spent an incredible amount of time making sure that every word was exactly as he wanted it to be. Perhaps he was too ambitious - at times, it seems like he's trying to capture practically every attitude which existed about blacks when he was writing - but I think he does a pretty damn good job of that. The claim that Ellison had nothing to say is laughable.
posted by dismas at 5:26 PM on August 20, 2007


Not strenuously debating the literary merits, but three other novels by that chick that wrote The Outsiders were made into movies, one by Coppola.
posted by ormondsacker at 9:12 PM on August 20, 2007


I'm late to the English-major party, but people who are interested in this might also be interested in a recent review of a biography of Ellison:
Arnold Rampersad...is fully up to answering the obvious question “Why no second novel?” But his book suggests, more interestingly, that it may be the wrong question to ask. The right one would be “How did he manage to write Invisible Man?” For, as Rampersad shows, Ellison’s instincts and core talents were not those of a novelist.
posted by dreamyshade at 6:30 PM on August 23, 2007


« Older You’d need years to really study these murals of C...  |  U.S. military practices geneti... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments