A Spook Meets the Invisible Man

On this day in history, March 1, 1913, noted American author and essayist Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, OK. His book, Invisible Man, published in 1952 and awarded the National Book of the Year award for Fiction in 1953, would be ranked as one of the top 100 English language novels of the 20th century by both The Modern Library and Time Magazine.

I would never hear of Ellison or his literary works in any of the English/American literature classes I took in the predominately ‘Black’ urban high schools I attended, or in college; but would discover both almost three decades later in − of all places − a naval base library.

It was the prologue that drew me:

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Invisible indeed, I thought. For you see… I was the spook!

5 Replies to “A Spook Meets the Invisible Man”

  1. For those who have not read Invisible Man, I recommend dropping everything and sitting down with it right now. It speaks to so much more than racial identity. At the same time, after three readings at three separate points of my life, it feels like Ellison’s understanding of the implications of race actually draw out the power and magic of that mysterious wound in all of us. Such an amazing work of art. It is so odd to think one of our greatest writers (I think our most important) would publish but one novel in his lifetime. The curse of perfection.

  2. Hi BJ,

    My non-exposure to works by people of color in high school mirrors what you describe. Perhaps we would learn of an author like this during the month of February, but more likely the same three or four civil rights figures would be trotted out each year instead.

    I have not read The Invisible Man, but I have heard of it. Your post reminded me to add it to my reading list. I was a little surprised to find that an Amazon search by title listed it first, ahead of the movie and the H.G. Wells book. How about that?

    1. Thanks Ray,

      How about that indeed! I believe the book’s publisher tried, albeit in vain, to convince Ellison to change the title out of fear it would be overshadowed by H.G. Well’s work of the same title. Interestingly enough, I believe Ellison, himself, was surprised by the books reception and remained its harshest critic.

      I used to wonder why his work, let alone the book, rarely, if ever, received due mention during B.H. Month. But I guess the title explains it. 😀

      Nevertheless, it became and remains one of my personal favs. So much so, that shortly after reading it I penned a litty ditty entitled “A Spook in the Crypt”. Maybe I’ll post it someday?

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Be talking to ya,

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