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They don’t say that about Idi Amin

Andrew O’Hagan: Bellow Whinges, 6 January 2011

Saul Bellow: Letters 
edited by Benjamin Taylor.
Viking, 571 pp., $35, November 2010, 978 0 670 02221 2
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... notion that replying to letters was nothing if not a complete and utter waste of time. To Ralph Ellison: ‘I’ve never enjoyed writing letters. Vasiliki says that Isaac, whose journals she took after his death, had some uncomplimentary things to say about the way I answered letters. I deserve them. There is some wickedness hidden here and I ...

It doesn’t tie any shoes

Madeleine Schwartz: Shirley Jackson, 5 January 2017

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life 
by Ruth Franklin.
Liveright, 585 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 87140 313 1
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Dark Tales 
by Shirley Jackson.
Penguin, 208 pp., £9.99, October 2016, 978 0 241 29542 7
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... to anti-racist movements. At one point, Franklin describes the way Hyman and Jackson encouraged Ralph Ellison, a friend, to write when he didn’t yet trust his talent. (An earlier biography of Jackson by Judy Oppenheimer, Private Demons, takes a chattier approach and relies heavily on anecdotes provided by Jackson’s North Bennington neighbours and ...

Outcasts and Desperados

Adam Shatz: Richard Wright’s Double Vision, 7 October 2021

The Man Who Lived Underground 
by Richard Wright.
Library of America, 250 pp., £19.99, April, 978 1 59853 676 8
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... success Wright had done much to promote, wasn’t the only protégé to turn against him. In 1963 Ralph Ellison wrote that, in Bigger Thomas, Wright had created not a black character other black people would recognise, but ‘a near subhuman indictment of white oppression’ crudely ‘designed to shock whites out of their apathy’. ...

Who’s the real wolf?

Kevin Okoth: Black Marseille, 23 September 2021

Romance in Marseille 
by Claude McKay.
Penguin, 208 pp., £12.99, May 2020, 978 0 14 313422 0
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... lives of Black artists, diplomats, writers and other extraordinary figures who lived in the city. (Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright were also supported by the programme, though McKay was never close to either.) FWP resources allowed McKay to produce Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940), a sociological study of cults, occultists and street-corner orators that ...

The Magic Bloomschtick

Colin Burrow: Harold Bloom, 21 November 2019

The American Canon: Literary Genius from Emerson to Pynchon 
by Harold Bloom, edited by David Mikics.
Library of America, 426 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 1 59853 640 9
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... he is probably best regarded as the intellectual child of the great 19th-century American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and his admirer the poet Walt Whitman. Bloom inherited rhetorical tics from Emerson, in particular a penchant for the resounding statement that hypes its own grandeur to the skies. He also took from him intellectual priorities: a cultural ...

The Last Witness

Colm Tóibín: The career of James Baldwin, 20 September 2001

... unfolded by reading about them in the Herald Tribune. Richard Wright remained in Paris. Neither Ralph Ellison nor Langston Hughes took part in the Civil Rights Movement (and Ellison took a dim view of Baldwin’s involvement), just as writers like Brian Friel and Seamus Heaney avoided active involvement in the public ...

Imaginary Homelands

Salman Rushdie, 7 October 1982

... I write ‘about’: but also for everyone else whom I can reach. I am of the same opinion as Ralph Ellison, who says that he finds something precious in being black in America: but that he is also reaching for more than that. ‘I was taken very early,’ he writes, ‘with a passion to link together all I loved within the Negro community and all ...

Yuh wanna play bad?

Christopher Tayler: Henry Roth, 23 March 2006

Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth 
by Steven Kellman.
Norton, 372 pp., $16.99, September 2005, 0 393 05779 8
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Call It Sleep 
by Henry Roth.
Picador US, 462 pp., $15, July 2005, 0 312 42412 4
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... Henry Roth’s silence was considered one of the most resonant in modern American literature. Ralph Ellison and J.D. Salinger were his only competition. When Call It Sleep (1934), Roth’s first novel, became a bestseller, thirty years after it first appeared, reporters found him scraping a living in Maine, gloomily slaughtering ducks and geese with ...

Give or take a dead Scotsman

Liam McIlvanney: James Kelman’s witterings, 22 July 2004

You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free 
by James Kelman.
Hamish Hamilton, 437 pp., £12.99, June 2004, 0 241 14233 4
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... Jerry remarks to his sceptical black girlfriend, before making an uncomfortable allusion to Ralph Ellison: ‘I enjoyed being an alien. Fuck them. The invisible man. Fine.’ Perhaps more damagingly, Kelman’s satire on the US security industry is curiously tame. Not only has DeLillo done this kind of thing with greater gusto and vision, but ...

Rat Poison

David Bromwich, 17 October 1996

Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life 
by Martha Nussbaum.
Beacon, 143 pp., $20, February 1996, 0 8070 4108 4
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... and his real-life followers who provoked James Baldwin in ‘Everybody’s Protest Novel’ and Ralph Ellison in ‘The World and the Jug’ to fight hard against Native Son as a model for black writers. These essays are pertinent to the sort of reading Martha Nussbaum wants to perform. They are a warning against it. Nussbaum comes close to saying that ...

Diary

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: Another Booker Flop, 6 November 2008

... not Salinger speaking as Holden Caulfield, or Joyce speaking as Molly Bloom. It is certainly not Ralph Ellison or James Baldwin, whom Adiga has claimed as his models in speaking for the underdog. What we are dealing with is someone with no sense of the texture of Indian vernaculars, yet claiming to have produced a realistic text. Imagine recording the ...

Loaded Dice

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Ta-Nehisi Coates, 3 December 2015

Between the World and Me 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Text, 152 pp., £10.99, September 2015, 978 1 925240 70 2
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... than read Coates’s blog and nod. ‘Need my skin blind me to all other values?’ an exasperated Ralph Ellison wrote in 1963. It’s a question Coates and many others wouldn’t think to ask today. The crisis of the black intellectual now, if there is one, isn’t that he lacks the means or the platform to represent his people but that it is too easy to ...

Comedy is murder

Thomas Powers: Joseph Heller, 8 March 2012

Just One Catch: The Passionate Life of Joseph Heller 
by Tracy Daugherty.
Robson, 548 pp., £25, September 2011, 978 1 84954 172 5
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Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller was Dad and Life was a Catch-22 
by Erica Heller.
Vintage, 272 pp., £8.99, October 2011, 978 0 09 957008 0
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... a cautionary roster of the silent that included Margaret Mitchell, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee and Ralph Ellison. Heller’s history reflected theirs – the dreams of youth and years of literary apprenticeship, a period of obsessed scribbling, enthusiasm from a publisher, a ripple of applause from the fraternity of reviewers, followed by the ever ...

In the Egosphere

Adam Mars-Jones: The Plot against Roth, 23 January 2014

Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books 
by Claudia Roth Pierpont.
Cape, 353 pp., £25, January 2014, 978 0 224 09903 5
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... in fine detail about his depiction of Italian immigrants. There were certainly places where Ralph Ellison would be called out for Invisible Man’s representation of the Negro and for his views on the race question. But at Yeshiva University Philip Roth was always going to be the main dish. By accepting a Jewish university’s invitation, di Donato ...

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