Flying Home and Other Stories

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Overview

Written between 1937 and 1954 and now available in paperback for the first time, these thirteen stories are a potent distillation of the genius of Ralph Ellison. Six of them remained unpublished during Ellison's lifetime and were discovered among the author's effects in a folder labeled "Early Stories." But they all bear the hallmarks--the thematic reach, musically layered voices, and sheer ebullience--that Ellison would bring to his classic Invisible Man.

The tales in Flying ...

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Overview

Written between 1937 and 1954 and now available in paperback for the first time, these thirteen stories are a potent distillation of the genius of Ralph Ellison. Six of them remained unpublished during Ellison's lifetime and were discovered among the author's effects in a folder labeled "Early Stories." But they all bear the hallmarks--the thematic reach, musically layered voices, and sheer ebullience--that Ellison would bring to his classic Invisible Man.

The tales in Flying Home range in setting from the Jim Crow South to a Harlem bingo parlor, from the hobo jungles of the Great Depression to Wales during the Second World War. By turns lyrical, scathing, touching, and transcendently wise, Flying Home and Other Stories is a historic volume, an extravagant last bequest from a giant of our literature.

These 13 stories by the author of The Invisible Man approach the elegance of Chekhov" (Washington Post) and provide "early explorations of (Ellison's) lifelong fascination with the 'complex fate' and 'beautiful absurdity' of American identity" (John Callahan).

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Editorial Reviews

New York Observer
Eye-opening...remarkable...Ellison puts to shame most of this season's new story collections...Anyone who thinks writers are made, not born, should read Flying Home.
Robert A. Butler
Flying Home and Other Stories, superbly edited by John F. Callahan, is an important event in American and African American literary life...this book finally makes it possible to bring Ellison's short fiction productively into the classroom, where it can be studied for its own merits and for the ways in which it illuminates his great novel Invisible Man....Ellison studies are about to enter an exciting new phase, thanks in no small measure to the publication of Flying Home and Other Stories. -- African American Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To read Ellison's early short stories after having read Invisible Man is like looking at the first sketches and blueprints of parts of the Taj Mahal after having stood in the complete palace itself. Most of these 12 early stories (written between 1937 and 1954) are clearly apprentice work in which Ellison is struggling for control of voice, timing and structure. In the earliest work (including "Hymie's Bull," his very first story), Ellison tries to shoehorn his own experience, including hoboing freight trains in the 1930s, into some boxed-in notion of literary form. But Ellison was a fast learner. While the four stories featuring the antics of Buster and Riley, two smart-mouthed African American boys, owe more than a bit to Mark Twain's Huck and Tom, they also show Ellison developing more supple language and a comic touch. "A Party Down at the Square" (discovered by Callahan, his literary executor, shortly after the writer's death in 1994), is an account of a lynching breathlessly narrated by a white Cincinnati boy visiting his uncle in Alabama. In the dramatic title story, Todd, a black pilot, a northerner trained at Tuskegee, crash-lands in rural Alabama and is rescued from redneck medics by Jefferson, an old black man exuding rustic ways and folksy tall tales. Though Jefferson represents everything Todd is trying to escape, the old man's wisdom and quick thinking ultimately lead the pilot to a reaffirmation of his roots. In these later stories, the moral core of Ellison's great novel is apparent: the passion for simultaneously exploring black identity and American identity, the determination to write deeply about race without writing only about race. His stories display, individually, the commitment to craft and, collectively, the acquired range that later enabled him to assemble, block by block, one of the great monuments of American literature.
Library Journal
This posthumous collection features 13 of Ellison's short stories, written when the young musician first tried his hand at fiction at the suggestion of Richard Wright. Opening with "Hymie's Bull," written in 1937, the stories describe a lynching ("A Party Down at the Square"), the adventures of preteens Buster and Riley ("Mister Toussan," "Afternoon," and "That I Had the Wings"), and a sojourner's tale ("In a Strange Country"). Humor is at the heart of the Buster and Riley stories, while sorrow rings though "Boy on a Train." Fine examples of work by a literary artist, these stories present an array of writing modes that effectively captures Ellison's talents. -- Fannette H. Thomas, Essex Community Coll., Baltimore, Md.
School Library Journal
Ellison's refined style of dialogue and detailed descriptions coupled with the radition of African-American storytelling make this a readable collection. Written between the 1930s and the 1950s, these 13 short stories, 6 of which were previously unpublished, capture a variety of moods. In "A Party Down at the Square," a white boy tells of witnessing his first lynching. Four stories introduce Buster and Riley, two preteens whose antics are laughable and conversations witty. One story deals with a four-year-old's first sense of prejudice with his father by his side. In "Flying Home," a Tuskegee Airman crashes into an Alabama field and faces, once again, the stark realities of segregation. Callahan's scholarly introduction presents a personal look at Ellison's youth. However, it is through the stories that one can begin to understand the complexities of a divided nation. YAs familiar with Invisible Man should appreciate this offering. At the same time, the mix of action and adventure will hold the attention of general readers.Connie Freeman, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana
New York Observer
Eye-opening...remarkable...Ellison puts to shame most of this season's new story collections...Anyone who thinks writers are made, not born, should read Flying Home.
Shelby Steele
...[O]ne is immediately struck by the wariness, the self-possession, and the cool introspection of the characters....there is always an intelligence at work, a consciousness that quests for possibility....the book's controlling metaphor [is] flight, by which Ellison...intends to represent freedom. -- The New Republic
Kirkus Reviews
This marvelous collection of 13 stories, six of which were never published during Ellison's lifetime, partly explains the phenomenon of Invisible Man, itself no ordinary first book. Had Ellison published this volume first (all of these narratives were written before his landmark novel), it would have been the debut of a voice to reckon with, if not the heavenly choir of Invisible Man. This early work improvises on some of Ellison's great themes: the way in which stereotypes obscure and deform our common humanity; the quest for a distinctly American identity; and the promise of democratic culture. A quartet of stories about youngbloods Buster and Riley—an embryonic novel of sorts—shows the fully absorbed influence of Twain. Ellison's Huck and Tom, full of innocent devilment, laze away the days signifying, doing the dozens, and just getting into trouble. In a brilliant down-home retelling of the Toussaint L'Ouverture story "Mister Toussan," Ellison's charming miscreants find precedent for their own rebellious desire to snatch cherries from a white man's yard. Three railroad tales document the plight of "black bums" who are treated with particular harshness by the guards. "I Did Not Learn Their Names" recalls a kind, elderly couple riding the rails to visit their son—a hard-luck story that suggests the happiness sometimes found in adversity. The struggling black railroad workers in "A Hard Time Keeping Up" finally give in to hilarity, a kind of release, at a late-night joint. While one young man finds momentary power onstage at a matinee bingo game, another is profoundly mortified when he crashes his plane during training as a military pilot. "In a StrangeCountry" is pure Ellison: A black sailor, fresh from a racial incident with a countryman, discovers in a local Welsh singing club the sense of transcendent national pride and unity he longs for back home. Glorious, pre-Invisible Man riffs—and another fine addition to the Ellison oeuvre.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679776611
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 402,421
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City in 1914.  He is the author of Invisible Man (1952), which won the National Book Award and became one of the most important and influential postwar American novels.  He published two volumes of nonfiction, Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986), which, together with unpublished speeches and writings, were brought together as The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison in 1995.  For more than forty years before his death in 1994, Ralph Ellison lived with his wife, Fanny McConnell, in Harlem in New York City.

Biography

Ralph Waldo Ellison, named after the preacher-philosopher Emerson, was born in Oklahoma in 1914. His father died when he was three years old, and he was brought up by his mother, who worked as domestic help in white households in order to support herself and her two sons.

At the age of nineteen, he won a scholarship to study music at the Booker T. Washington Tuskegee Institute. In 1936, he went to New York and there met the black writers Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. He started contributing to the Federal Writers' Project, set up as part of Roosevelt's New Deal, and soon his short stories and articles began to appear in magazines and journals. In 1943 he joined the United States Merchant Marines returning to New York after the war. Awarded a Rosenwald fellowship he was able to concentrate on his writing and, seven years after starting it, his masterpiece Invisible Man (1952) was published. Immediately recognized as a classic in its own time, and described as a "touchstone of the 1950s", it won the American National Book Award and established Ellison as one of the major figures of twentieth-century fiction. He also published two collections of essays, Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986), but his second novel, which he worked on for over four decades and repeatedly declared to be 'virtually finished', never appeared. Flying Home and Other Stories (Penguin 1996) is a collection of both published and previously unpublished short stories.

Ellison was highly regarded by both the literary and academic worlds. He was Fellow of the American Academy in Rome from 1955 to 1957 and on his return held several visiting professorships; latterly being Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities at New York University. He received the United States Medal of Freedom in 1969, became Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1970, and received the National Medal of Arts in 1985. Ralph Ellison died in 1994, survived by his wife of forty-eight years. In his obituary, The Independent declared him "a great gentleman, indeed a noble man, and the remarkable mythologising author of ... the great American Negro novel."

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books LTD.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ralph Waldo Ellison (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 1, 1914
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    1. Date of Death:
      March 16, 1994
    2. Place of Death:
      New York City

Table of Contents

Introduction
A Party Down at the Square 3
Boy on a Train 12
Mister Toussan 22
Afternoon 33
That I Had the Wings 45
A Coupla Scalped Indians 63
Hymie's Bull 82
I Did Not Learn Their Names 89
A Hard Time Keeping Up 97
The Black Ball 110
King of the Bingo Game 123
In a Strange Country 137
Flying Home 147
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2003

    Home with Ralph Ellison

    Ralph Ellison's 'Flying Home and Other Stories' apparently is the first posthumous collection to be published by his estate. And it is a remarkable collection at that. There are thirteen stories here, six of which had never been published before. The editor, Professor John F. Callahan, did a fine job at choosing the stories to be included, and he describes the fascinating selection process in the book's introduction. Professor Callahan includes three early Buster-and-Riley stories which inspired me to write my short story, 'Los Angeles, 1970' (Outsider Ink at: http://outsidermedia.com/00/spring/olivas.html). The Buster-and-Riley stories capture the wonderful and lively banter between the two boys while showing how the racism of the real world touches and affects their childhood. There is also 'A Party Down at the Square' which is a chilling story told in the first person by a white boy who witnesses the burning of an African-American man. Each story is well-crafted and powerful in its understatement. Ellison's graceful and evocative language paints a picture of human strength and frailty with the same honest, unflinching brush. Though he is best remembered for his novel, 'Invisible Man,' this collection demonstrates that he was also a brilliant craftsman of the short story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2001

    One of the most important writers of the 20th C.

    Ralph Ellison has the great gift to tell a simple tale and fill it with such myriad emotions that one is left amazed...A delicious writer who weaves the period of 1930's and 50's with great delicacy and detail.. One is feed well by each short story..A great adventure.. Read the other reviews for more detail... I could not put this book down; Ellison is a jewel in the literary world!! BN.com is selling the hard back for $4.98 buy a copy for yourself, for your child, for your family and friends,for your child's school library.. A must for anyone's library..

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