Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 January 2022
While Ralph Ellison was waiting for Invisible Man to be published, he confessed to Albert Murray, that he was haunted by “embarrassing” dreams of “Tuskegee [. . . ] all the scenes of test and judgment.” Although the novel is not an autobiography but “near allegory” as Ellison once called it, critics, while acknowledging the importance of his years at Tuskegee, have tended to flatten the complexity of one of the hero’s greatest “tests” – the Southern black college. Drawing upon biographers Lawrence Jackson and Arnold Rampersad, the Tuskegee University Archives, and Ellison’s own words, his fiction as well his correspondence and interviews, this chapter will explore how large Tuskegee looms in Ellison’s life and work: the Institute meant far more to Ellison’s development as an artist than simply to serve as one more windmill at which the quixotic hero of Invisible Man must tilt.