Photo Credit Troy Johnson, AALBC.com
Arnold Rampersad is Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities and a member of the Department of English at Stanford University. His books include biographies of Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson, and he collaborated with Arthur Ashe on his memoir, Days of Grace.
His teaching covers such areas as nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature; the literature of the American South; American and African-American autobiography; race and American literature; and the Harlem Renaissance. From 1991 to 1996, he held a MacArthur "genius grant" fellowship.
He has written for The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and The Washington Post, and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He lives in Stanford, California.
Ralph Ellison: A Biography
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Pub. Date: April 2007
Format: Hardcover, 672pp
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
"As Arnold Rampersad astutely observes in this fascinating, revelatory biography, Ellison's writings took careful note of his fellow blacks' creation of "certain bulwarks against chaos, including religion, folklore, stable families, and a canny knowledge of Jim Crow."
'Jabari Asim - The Washington Post
The definitive biography of one of the most important American writers and cultural intellectuals of the twentieth century'Ralph Ellison, author of the masterpiece Invisible Man.
In 1953, Ellison's explosive story of an innocent young black man's often surreal search for truth and his identity won him the National Book Award for fiction and catapulted him to national prominence. Ellison went on to earn many other honors, including two presidential medals and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, but his failure to publish a second novel, despite years of striving, haunted him for the rest of his life. Now, as the first scholar given complete access to Ellison's papers, Arnold Rampersad has written not only a reliable account of the main events of Ellison's life but also a complex, authoritative portrait of an unusual artist and human being.
Born poor and soon fatherless in 1913, Ralph struggled both to belong to and to escape from the world of his childhood. We learn here about his sometimes happy, sometimes harrowing years growing up in Oklahoma City and attending Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Arriving in New York in 1936, he became a political radical before finally embracing the cosmopolitan intellectualism that would characterize his dazzling cultural essays, his eloquent interviews, and his historic novel. The second half of his long life brought both widespread critical acclaim and bitter disputes with many opponents, including black cultural nationalists outraged by what they saw as his elitism and misguided pride in his American citizenship.
This biography describes a man of magnetic personality who counted Saul Bellow, Langston Hughes, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wright, Richard Wilbur, Albert Murray, and John Cheever among his closest friends; a man both admired and reviled, whose life and art were shaped mainly by his unyielding desire to produce magnificent art and by his resilient faith in the moral and cultural strength of America.
A magisterial biography of Ralph Waldo Ellison'a revelation of the man, the writer, and his times.
Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry
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Edited by Arnold Rampersad Associate Editor Hilary Herbold
Format: Hardcover, 424pp
Pub. Date: October 2005
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Book Review by Kam Williams
' Excerpted from The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
Let's be honest, we live in an age where gangsta' rap is the predominate form of poetry which the average member of the Hip-Hop Generation has been exposed to, committed to memory, internalized and likely emulates. This probably helps explain the concurrent explosion of so-called slams, the spoken-word equivalent of karaoke, live rhyming contests staged at coffeehouses and clubs where entrants take turns trying to outdo each other at the mike in return for exposure and a chance to disseminate their ideas, and, if they're lucky, a cash door prize.
Let's just not forget that prior to the explosion of rap, for over 200 years, African-American poets addressed their attention to issues other than bling and booty calls. Those dedicated artists labored assiduously to create relevant, lyrical verse which gave expression to the full panoply of emotions and experiences which reflected the black condition in their day.
In the face of cultural repression, they subtly expounded on subjects ranging from slavery, resistance and protest, to love, religion and spirituality.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to those whose words appear on these pages, prophetic trailblazers who sensed the importance of putting pen to paper to preserve the essence of their core realities, regardless of the potential risks and personal costs. So, if you mention names like Langston Hughes, Mari Evans, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen and Gwendolyn Brooks to your kids, and get a blank stare, may I recommend The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry, edited by Arnold Rampersad and Hilary Herbold.
The Life of Langston Hughes (2 vols.)
Pub. Date: December 2002
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Edition Description: REV
This two-volume biography has been universally acclaimed as the definitive life of the leading light of the Harlem Renaissance.
Rampersad, one of our foremost African-American scholars, is an apt biographer for Hughes (1902-67), our greatest black poet. I, Too, Sing America (volume 1) covers the years during which Hughes produced his best work and was most politically active; I Dream a World (volume 2) chronicles his artistic decline due to overwork in= response to perpetual financial difficulties. Both volumes are psychologically astute, critically penetrating and masterful in their intermingling of Hughes' story with a chronicle of the enormous changes that took place in black America during his lifetime.
Jackie Robinson: A Biography
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Pub. Date: September 1998
Format: Paperback, 512pp
Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
The extraordinary life of Jackie Robinson is illuminated as
never before in this full-scale biography by Arnold Rampersad, who was chosen by
Jack's widow, Rachel, to tell her husband's story, and was given unprecedented
access to his private papers. We are brought closer than we have ever been to
the great ballplayer, a man of courage and quality who became a pivotal figure
in the areas of race and civil rights.
Born in the rural South, the son of a sharecropper, Robinson was reared in southern California. We see him blossom there as a student-athlete as he struggled against poverty and racism to uphold the beliefs instilled in him by his mother--faith in family, education, America, and God.
We follow Robinson through World War II, when, in the first wave of racial integration in the armed forces, he was commissioned as an officer, then court-martialed after refusing to move to the back of a bus. After he plays in the Negro National League, we watch the opening of an all-American drama as, late in 1945, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers recognized Jack as the right player to break baseball's color barrier--and the game was forever changed.
Jack's never-before-published letters open up his relationship with his family, especially his wife, Rachel, whom he married just as his perilous venture of integrating baseball began. Her memories are a major resource of the narrative as we learn about the severe harassment Robinson endured from teammates and opponents alike; about death threats and exclusion; about joy and remarkable success. We watch his courageous response to abuse, first as a stoic endurer, then as a fighter who epitomized courage anddefiance.
We see his growing friendship with white players like Pee Wee Reese and the black teammates who followed in his footsteps, and his embrace by Brooklyn's fans. We follow his blazing career: 1947, Rookie of the Year; 1949, Most Valuable Player; six pennants in ten seasons, and 1962, induction into the Hall of Fame.
But sports were merely one aspect of his life. We see his business ventures, his leading role in the community, his early support of Martin Luther King Jr., his commitment to the civil rights movement at a crucial stage in its evolution; his controversial associations with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Humphrey, Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, and Malcolm X.
Rampersad's magnificent biography leaves us with an indelible image of a principled man who was passionate in his loyalties and opinions: a baseball player who could focus a crowd's attention as no one before or since; an activist at the crossroads of his people's struggle; a dedicated family man whose last years were plagued by illness and tragedy, and who died prematurely at fifty-two. He was a pathfinder, an American hero, and he now has the biography he deserves.
Days of Grace
Written by Arthur Ashe and Arnold Rampersad
Pub. Date: May 1994
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
A remarkable and inspiring memoir by a remarkable and inspiring human being: Arthur Ashe, embodiment of courage and grace in every aspect of his life, from his triumphs as a great tennis champion and his determined social activism to his ordeal in the face of death, a casualty of AIDS. As he brings us into his childhood in Richmond, Virginia, where he was born in 1943, where his mother died when he was six, and where he was raised by a loving but demanding father who set before his son the goals of self-reliance, discipline, and responsibility. He recalls his exit from the then segregated South and his entry into the world of tennis: a black intruder in an all-white enclave, experiencing from the start every variety of rude or "polite" exclusion and yet becoming, despite it, one of his generation's great players. He takes us inside the tennis world of his championship years and his captaincy of the Davis Cup team. He describes the full emotional shock of the discovery in 1988, in the aftermath of a brain operation, of his infection with AIDs - an infection that was traced back to a transfusion after a heart bypass operation in 1983. He tells what took place when he confided his condition to his wife and to a few close friends and colleagues. And he fully recounts for the first time what happened when, in April 1992, the possibility of a newspaper report forced him to reveal his illness to the world, the ordeal that ensued, and his feelings about it. We see how, during the last five years of his life, Ashe devoted the brilliance and strength that had made him a great tennis champion to the championship of great causes: justice for black men and women, the fight against all prejudice, the battle against AIDS, and active opposition to South Africa's apartheid and to U.S. policy toward Haitians seeking asylum here. With a quiet and moving openness Ashe talks about the athlete's life and about his contemporaries on the tennis court, among them Billie Jean King and Jimmy Connors.
edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad illustrated by Benny Andrews
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Sterling (April 28, 2006)
Product Dimensions: 10 x 8.8 x 0.5 inches
*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. Hughes' stirring poetry continues to have enormous appeal for young people. In this illustrated collection of 26 poems, Andrews' beautiful collage-and-watercolor illustrations extend the rhythm, exuberance, and longing of the words--not with literal images, but with tall, angular figures that express a strong sense of African American music, dreams, and daily life--while leaving lots of space for the words to "sing America." The picture-book format makes Hughes' work accessible to some grade-school children, especially for reading aloud and sharing, but the main audience will be older readers, who can appreciate the insightful, detailed introduction and biography, as well as the brief notes accompanying each poem, contributed by Hughes scholars Roessel and Rampersol. Their comments, together with the quotes from the poet himself, will encourage readers to return to the book to see how Hughes made poetry of his personal life, black oral and musical traditions, urban experience, and the speech of ordinary people. Whether the focus is the Harlem Renaissance, the political struggle, Hughes' African heritage, or the weary blues, this book will find great use in many libraries. Hazel Rochman Copyright ' American Library Association. All rights reserved