Ralph Ellison began writing Invisible Man in the mid-1940s, although the story takes place earlier in the twentieth century. The book took several years to complete. Specifically, according to the New York Times, the book was written “over a seven-year period” and published in 1952 by Random House. Once it was out, and it reached and stayed on the list of bestselling titles for sixteen weeks. One year after its publication, the book earned the US National Book Award for Fiction.
In describing Invisible Man, the National Book Foundation calls it
a milestone in American literature...[that] established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.
The author attributed T. S. Elliot and his poem “The Waste Land” as a major influence.
Like Ellison at the time that he wrote Invisible Man, the protagonist is a young Black man who is unnamed in the book. After coming of age in the American south and going to a segregated college (Ellison himself attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama), he moves to New York, just as the author did.
In New York, Ralph Ellison became involved with other young Black writers who would eventually become well-known authors, including Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. Ellison also got involved with the Federal Writers' Project, which was a New Deal jobs program that was part of the US Works Projects Administration (WPA). Although Invisible Man post-dates the Federal Writers' Project, which lasted from 1936 to 1940, other works by Ellison are included in its archives.