Was Ralph Ellison The Most Interesting Man In The World?
I would’ve loved to hang out with Ralph Ellison.
Not only was he the author of Invisible Man, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, but the guy was a jack of all trades who seemed to know a little bit about everything. He seriously reminds me of “The Most Interesting Man In The World” from the Dos Equis commercials.
Take a look at this paragraph from the summary of the American Journey documentary I posted about last week.
In his own life, Ellison’s interests were as far ranging as his “integrative” imagination. He was expert at fishing, hunting, repairing car engines, and assembling radios and stereo systems. His haberdasher in New York said that he “knew more about textiles than anyone I’ve ever met,” and his friend Saul Bellow called him a “thoroughgoing expert on the raising of African violets.” He was also an accomplished sculptor, musician, and photographer. The scope of Ellison’s mind and vision may have contributed to the growing unwieldiness of his much-awaited second novel, which he toiled over for forty years. He planned it as three books, a saga that would encompass the entire American experience. The book was still unfinished when Ellison died in New York in 1994 at the age of eighty.
Need someone to plant a row of African violets in your garden? Ellison’s your guy.
Need someone to fix your transmission? Ellison’s your guy.
Need someone to explain the difference between cotton and tweed and polyester? Ellison’s your guy.
Need someone to create a manatee sculpture for your front yard? Ellison’s your guy.
All of this is even more impressive than Richard Wright’s fascination with haikus.
I thought this sentence was intriguing: “The scope of Ellison’s mind and vision may have contributed to the growing unwieldiness of his much-awaited second novel, which he toiled over for forty years.” You know who that reminds me of? David Foster Wallace.
He, too, had so many interests, and was such a brilliant mind, you wonder if that affected his ability to self-edit. For Ellison, it’s a shame he only finished one novel during his life, as brilliant as that novel was. His unfinished novel mentioned above was somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 pages when he died in 1994.
That said, I love the thought of Ellison toiling in the garden over obscure flowers or sliding under a car to change out a part. He obviously had many passions outside of writing. I wonder if those fueled his writing or, as the paragraph suggests, affected his ability to finish a second novel?
Once again, food for thought from a great author.