One of my more interesting experiences as publisher of Jerry Jazz Musician was producing a series of interviews that focused on the work of the novelist Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man was a favorite novel of mine as a young man, but it wasn’t until I reread it in the 1990’s before I began to understand the enormity of its cultural significance. At that time, Ellison’s second (and unfinished) novel Juneteenth was being published, and a variety of books on Ellison were released at the same time – among them Living with Music, a collection of Ellison’s writings on jazz music edited by Columbia University scholar Robert O’Meally, and Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.
Village Voice writer Gary Giddins, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and who is the country’s preeminent jazz critic, joins us in a June 21, 2002 conversation about Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison.
When Albert Murray arrived at Tuskeegee Institute in 1935, Ralph Ellison was an upperclassman who was, in Murray’s words, “dressed like a ‘Joe College’ right out of Esquire magazine.” According to Murray, Ellison “represented the type of aspirations that I had been expecting for myself.”
While their paths split geographically, the two kindled an emotional and intellectual friendship that gained momentum during the era of Ellison’s creative peak, when his timeless novel of identity Invisible Man was being written, distributed, reviewed, and rewards reaped upon. They honored successes, encouraged intellectual growth, and shared a deep love of music. They were best friends.