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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tony Lindsay Presents... Ralph Waldo Ellison

In American literature, there was a period between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement; the Black writers of this period are referred to by the historian Lawrence P. Jackson as the “Indignant Generation.” One of the leading writers of the era was Ralph Waldo Ellison.

Largely respected for his 1952 novel Invisible Man, Ellison wrote other fiction during the period as well; his short stories were gathered and edited by John F. Callahan in a posthumous collection titled Flying Home. The thirteen stories of the work reflect the development of Ellison’s literary style along with his use of themed stories, and any student of literary technique will be well served by the collection.

Ellison experiments with point of view in the four warm hearted coming of age and friendship stories with the protagonists, Riley and Buster, two young Black boys who: brag of the conquest of Mister Toussan (Toussaint Louverture), survive the Depression with creative pastimes and diligent parents and sports heroes, learn that all actions have consequence, and that one man’s witch could be another’s vixen.

In the story, “A Party Down at the Square,” Ellison creates another boy protagonist. This time the youth is white, and he is enticed into witnessing a killing, the burning alive of a Black man. The town gathered in the square for the “party.” Ellison reduced the victim, the Black man, to what the crowd and the boy saw; the Black man was no more than “a barbecued hog.” However, Ellison interrupts the celebration with a cyclone that causes a plane to crash, and a woman to be electrocuted, but despite the catastrophes the boy and the town’s people returned to the “party.” The boy did manage to generate a simulant of respect for the Black man when he broke free of the burning ropes with his last breath, “That Bacote nigger was some nigger.”

Ellison employed another boy child character in “The Black Ball.” John, the protagonist and the loving father of the boy works as a maintenance man. Ellison expertly built tension around the father and son love while juxtaposing Jim Crow restrictions with unions; causing John to understand that working without a union was working behind the blackball.

The titled story of the collection, “Flying Home” is the lengthiest story in the work; dealing with Jim Crow, classism among Blacks, self-worth, and community belonging are some of the apparent themes covered in this multi layered story. The protagonist can be easily interrupted as a Tuskegee Airman who felt he had elevated himself above Jim Crow restrictions and the more ignorant of his brethren. Ellison used reality as a sounding board for the character and the reader by having the character in out of consciousness pulling empathy from the reader, and at the same time reducing the character’s pompousness by having him depend on those he viewed as less than himself.  

  The stories in Ralph Ellison’s Flying Home exemplify the artistry of the writer and the pain of the era he wrote in. The stories are a must read for any serious student and writer, and a pleasurable read for anyone who enjoys good stories.    

 Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His book ONE DEAD DOCTOR was chosen by Conversations Book Club as one of its Top 100 Books of 2012. Lindsay was named Conversations Author of the Year 2012-2013.  His new book EMOTIONAL DRIPPINGS is available now on He can be reached at or on Facebook

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