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Ralph Ellison: An American Journey

Distributed by California Newsreel, Order Dept., PO Box 2284, South Burlington, VT 05407; 877-811-7495 (toll free)
Produced by Avon Kirkland
Directed by Avon Kirkland
VHS, color, 87 min.
Sr. High - Adult
African American Studies, American Studies, Biography, Literature

Reviewed by Ayodele Ojumu, Graduate Student, Department of Library and Information Studies, University at Buffalo, State University of New York Ojumu, State University of New York College at Fredonia

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

Ralph Waldo Ellison, named after author-poet-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, is most famous for his 1953 National Book Award-winning novel Invisible Life. Many readers and critics believed Invisible Life not “Black enough” at the time of its publication, totally misunderstanding the motivation and purpose for such a novel. Ellison proved that “that you could do with Black life what Homer did with Greek life” by choosing “sophisticated depictions of black life and culture.”

Ellison’s passion was music, especially the Blues. After accepting a music scholarship to attend Tuskegee Institute, Ellison planned to become a composer so that he could write a symphony based on the Blues. Within his junior year of college, Ellison discovered his soul mate - literature - after reading T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Making the decision to change his major to English thereby resigning his scholarship, Ellison went to New York City to earn money to pay for his last year at Tuskegee. While in New York City, Ellison met Richard Wright, who was a mentor to Ellison, through Langston Hughes. Ellison never returned to Tuskegee. He instead participated in the Federal Writers' Project and began publishing.

Narrated by Andre Braugher, Ralph Ellison: An American Journey showcases the first scenes adapted from the text of Invisible Man with special appearances by John Amos, Paul Benjamin, and Jacques C. Smith as the Invisible Man. This documentary packs much in a small package. This video undertakes the very complex and misunderstood writer by successfully tracing his life and career. Timely photographs, interview footage, and commentary by a range of intellectuals, such as: Farah Griffin and Robert O’Meally of Columbia University, Cornel West of Harvard University, and Lawrence Jackson – Ellison Biographer.

The video is of good technical quality. Ralph Ellison: An American Journey can be used to support a variety of subject areas across the disciplines, such as: African American Studies, American Studies, Literature, and Popular Culture. School, public, and academic library collections, alike will be enhanced by this purchase. It is highly recommended.