Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke
At the Roots of the Racial Divide
Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke focuses on the little-known but important friendship between two canonical American writers. The story of this fifty-year friendship, however, is more than literary biography; Bryan Crable argues that the Burke-Ellison relationship can be interpreted as a microcosm of the American "racial divide." Through examination of published writings and unpublished correspondence, he reconstructs the dialogue between Burke and Ellison about race that shaped some of their most important works, including Burke's A Rhetoric of Motives and Ellison's Invisible Man. In addition, the book connects this dialogue to changes in American discourse about race. Crable shows that these two men were deeply connected, intellectually and personally, but the social division between white and black Americans produced hesitation, embarrassment, mystery, and estrangement where Ellison and Burke might otherwise have found unity. By using Ellison’s nonfiction and Burke’s rhetorical theory to articulate a new vocabulary of race, the author concludes not with a simplistic "healing" of the divide but with a challenge to embrace the responsibility inherent to our social order.
American Literatures Initiative
Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke is a pioneering synthesis of biographical and critical scholarship on two enduring giants of twentieth-century American life as well as an utterly unique exploration of heretofore unexamined archival materials.
Bryan Crable's Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Burke is a scholarly work of exceptional depth. It offers considerable and original insight into the work and careers of two of the most important cultural figures in America during the twentieth century. And it has further import because of Crable's fundamental contention: that the relationship between Ellison and Burke epitomizes the larger racial issue that lies at the heart of American culture. In short, the book enriches scholarship on Burke and Ellison and participates in the most important cultural conversation now going on in this country.
Bryan Crable is Associate Professor of Communication at Villanova University and the Founding Director of the Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society.