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Whatever Happened To ... The Ellison Scholars?

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By Wil Haygood
Sunday, April 11, 2010

They were two scholars hard at work on a book project that had already taken them more than 13 years. They were trying to get inside the psyche of a great novelist who had left behind four decades of work on an unfinished book when he died in 1994.

The novelist was Ralph Ellison, whose titanic literary work, "Invisible Man," published in 1952, seemed to have a profound effect upon the citizenry when it came to talking about race. The scholars, John Callahan and Adam Bradley, had taken on the mammoth process of piecing together thousands of pages of Ellison's words to complete his long-anticipated second novel. When they were featured in a Washington Post Magazine story Aug. 19, 2007, they imagined they were a year or so from publication.

The men would labor another 2 years. In January, "Three Days Before the Shooting," a voluminous work of 1,136 pages, was published by the Modern Library imprint. Bradley said it took longer than expected to examine additional Ellison documents. The copy editing process for such a huge, complicated manuscript also caused delays, he said.

Callahan, a professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., said he thinks that "Three Days" will show readers that Ellison's writing life was full and gratifying, despite his lack of output. Bradley said the book's non-linear structure demonstrates Ellison's literary mind in motion. "I think this book will bring about a profound shift in the study of Ellison," he said.

The story centers on a black minister who raises a boy of uncertain race who turns away from his black upbringing and becomes a race-baiting Southern senator. As Ellison's literary executor, Callahan was charged with fashioning his friend's massive archives into something readable: in fact, the hoped-for follow-up to the epic "Invisible Man." In 1994, Callahan summoned Bradley, then one of his students, to help. They sifted through thousands of typed pages, boxes of scribbled notes and 80 computer disks, all containing half-finished scenes and chapters. In 1999, they published "Juneteenth," an abridged version of the new book.

Callahan, now on sabbatical, is working to complete a novel of his own. Bradley is a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His "Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop" was published last year, and his "Ralph Ellison in Progress" will be published in May.

Read the original story: The Invisible Manuscript


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