A few of Ellison's short stories from the 1940s and 1950s were widely anthologized over the years. After a while, it became generally known that he was at work on another novel. Though he remained aware ever afterward of the authority 'Invisible Man' gave to him, no second novel followed his brilliant debut in 1952.
Baldwin gave expression to the longings of blacks in exalted prose. He was embraced, in the tradition of Negro Firsterism, even by those who never sat down with a book, as our preeminent literary spokesman, whether he liked it or not. Neither athlete nor entertainer, but nevertheless a star.
I know black kids who don't even know any other black kids except their cousins. And that's enough. You wouldn't look at these kids and say that they are Uncle Toms or self-hating or fleeing or trying to be white, given the culture in which they live, which is very natural to them as kids.
That slave narratives existed at all implied a satisfactory conclusion to the journey - the attainment of literacy, the escape to the place where one could reflect on the experience of bondage and the flight to freedom, and, in the early days of the slave trade, the conversion to Christianity.
History is a sly boots, and for a generation of blacks that cannot identify with the frustrations of Jim Crow, and for whites who cannot understand the hard deal that faces working-class blacks, it is difficult to reconcile Hughes's reputation as a poet-hero with his topical verse and uncomplicated prose.
The city - as the theater of experience, the refuge, the hiding place - has, in turn, been replaced by an abstraction, the fast lane. In the fast lane, the passive observer reduces everything - streets, people, rock lyrics, headlines - to landscape. Every night holds magical promises of renewal. But burnout is inevitable, like some law of physics.
Jean Toomer is a phantom of the Harlem Renaissance. Pick up any general study of the literature written by Afro-Americans, and there is the name of Jean Toomer. In biographies and memoirs of Harlem Renaissance figures, his name is invoked as if he had been one of the sights along Lenox Avenue.
'Invisible Man' holds such an honored place in African-American literature that Ralph Ellison didn't have to write anything else to break bread with the remembered dead. But he did try to go on, because if a writer has done one great thing, then the pressures to do another are intense.