Ralph Ellison’s fist novel, The Invisible Man was critically acclaimed and a bestseller after its publication in 1952. By the time he died in 1994 he had written over two thousand pages on his second novel Juneteenth, which was begun in 1958.
That’s not to say Ellison stopped writing, but he primarily published non-fiction essays during the rest of his career, though some unpublished stories were found after his death. What interests me most is that he evidently wanted to complete the novel, because he chipped away at it for decades, but was unable to.
Arnold Rampersad has written a biography of Ellison, in which he puts forth the ideas that Ellison was a perfectionist who had lost touch with his cultural roots and perhaps felt incapable of matching his initial success as a novelist. Whatever the reason, it gives a writer pause to realize that someone with obvious talent and proven success can still hit the wall. In Ellison’s case, the wall was never overcome, despite his abilities and efforts.
Perhaps, given the appropriate support or guidance, Ellison’s story might have turned out differently, but who really knows? He left an amazing literary legacy in any case. Writing is a gift to be pursued while we are able to do it, and should not be taken for granted. Life is short, and for a host of reasons, our opportunities and ability to produce the written word may not always be there.