Ellison began work on his second novel in 1954, but a house fire in November, 1967, destroyed much of his manuscript. It was an event about which he was particularly tight-lipped until 1994, when he publicly discussed the loss of his manuscript with David Remnick: “There was, of course, a traumatic event involved with the book. We lost a summer house and, with it, a good part of the novel. It wasn’t the entire manuscript, but it was over three hundred and sixty pages. There was no copy.” Ellison spent thirty years re-creating and polishing his manuscript, unable to finalize it before his death in April, 1994. Although the book was originally intended to be published as a trilogy, John Callahan, Ellison’s literary executor, sifted through Ellison’s papers to find the one self-contained narrative that stood alone best. He edited it into Juneteenth.
In the book, Adam Sunraider, a U.S. senator in the 1950’s who claims the only black person he knows “is the boy who shines shoes at his golf club,” was once called Bliss and raised by a southern black minister. As a boy he is a preaching prodigy in the Reverend Hickman’s traveling ministry, but he runs away in search of his identity. While Hickman keeps in touch with Bliss’s life during the years of separation, the senator successfully suppresses his childhood memories of his southern black community. Bliss brings scandal to the Senate floor when, upon receiving a near-fatal shot by a...
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