Ralph Ellison published just one novel during his lifetime, "The Invisible Man."
But it was enough to win the 1953 National Book Award, beating out competition that included Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" and John Steinbeck's "East of Eden."
Ellison, an Oklahoma native whose father died when he was 3, went on to earn two presidential medals and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters but, despite his best efforts, he never published a second novel - a failure that haunted him for the rest of his life.
Arnold Rampersad has come to know this enigmatic figure, both revered and reviled during his lifetime. His latest book, "Ralph Ellison: A Biography," has been described as the definitive account of the writer. He was the first scholar given complete access to Ellison's papers, and the result, critics say, is a complex, authoritative portrait of an unusual artist and human being.
Rampersad, a humanities and English professor at Stanford University who also wrote a two-volume biography of Langston Hughes, will speak on "The Enigma of Ralph Ellison" at 7:30 p.m. today at Kansas University's Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Miss. Chancellor Robert Hemenway will introduce Rampersad.
The lecture - among the events planned in conjunction with the Spencer Museum of Art's exhibition celebrating "Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist" - is free and open to the public.