When Ralph Ellison Experienced a Forty-Year Writing Block
The History of Literature Podcast Explores the Longest Fallow Periods
For tens of thousands of years, human beings have been using fictional devices to shape their worlds and communicate with one another. Four thousand years ago they began writing down these stories, and a great flourishing of human achievement began. We know it today as literature, a term broad enough to encompass everything from ancient epic poetry to contemporary novels. How did literature develop? What forms has it taken? And what can we learn from engaging with these works today? Hosted by Jacke Wilson, an amateur scholar with a lifelong passion for literature, The History of Literature takes a fresh look at some of the most compelling examples of creative genius the world has ever known.
Ralph Waldo Ellison (1913-1994) began life as an infant in Oklahoma City and ended it as one of the most successful and celebrated novelists in the world. And this reputation was largely due to one book, the masterpiece Invisible Man (1952), which transcended the limitations that the American reading public placed on African American writers to become what Time magazine later called “the quintessential American picaresque of the twentieth century.” Admired by critics and bought in large numbers by readers around the world, Invisible Man seemed to herald the beginning of a long and promising writing career for Ellison, but unfortunately, that was not to be: for the next 40 years, he struggled to publish more fiction, chasing a perfection he could never manage to achieve. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at the life of Ralph Waldo Ellison, then is joined by Mike Palindrome, the president of the Literature Supporters Club, to discuss Ellison’s plight and the top ten cases of writers block.