Trey Ellis Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

One of the most noteworthy of a generation of middle-class African American authors who gained prominence in the late twentieth century, Trey Ellis mixes disparate ideas in his writing, crossing the borders of race and class. The characters in his fiction move comfortably between the black world of their families and friends, white mass culture, and the mixed-race environment of urban America. Ellis grew up in the predominantly white suburbs outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New Haven, Connecticut, while his parents were completing their professional degrees at the University of Michigan and Yale University. When he was in elementary school in Hamden, Connecticut, Ellis and his sister were the only black children at the school who were not bused in from New Haven. Later he attended private junior high and high schools in New Haven until the eleventh grade, when he transferred to Phillips Academy, Andover. From there, Ellis went to Stanford University in California, where he majored in creative writing.{$S[A]Ricostranza, Tom;Ellis, Trey}

In his artistic statement “The New Black Aesthetic,” Ellis heralds a movement of second-generation middle-class blacks who have the economic security to pursue artistic experiments. The essay, a mélange of references ranging from authors James Baldwin and Gertrude Stein to singer James Brown and comedian Pee-Wee Herman, is a manifesto for a new black art and a new black artist. The artist of the New Black Aesthetic is “a cultural mulatto” who borrows from “a multi-racial mix of cultures” and moves freely across racial, social, and class boundaries. The artists and the audience for this new black art are alienated intellectuals who feel misunderstood by both the white and the black worlds and who “admit liking both Jim and Toni Morrison.” Ellis singles out the film directors Spike Lee and Robert Townsend, the author Terry McMillan, and the playwright George C. Wolfe as artists who embody the spirit of this new aesthetic.

Ellis’s first novel, Platitudes, uses innovative postmodern techniques to create a novel of the New Black Aesthetic. The work includes fragments of computer programs, college entrance examinations, menus, love poems, popular songs, photographs, and a sex survey as part of the satire on...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ellis, Trey. “The New Black Aesthetic.” Callaloo 12, no. 1 (Winter, 1989). This essay and the insightful responses to it by Eric Lott and Tera Hunter in the same periodical are indispensable sources that outline the principles of Ellis’s artistic vision.

Favor, J. Martin. “‘Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing, Baby’: Trey Ellis’ Search for New Black Voices.” Callaloo 16, no. 3 (Summer, 1993). Martin reviews both Platitudes and Ellis’s essay “The New Black Aesthetic.” He focuses on the artistic impressions of African Americans, sexism, and notions of racial pride.

Hunter, Tera. “‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World’: Specters of the Old Re-newed in Afro-American Culture and Criticism.” Callaloo 12, no. 1 (Winter, 1989). Hunter perceives Ellis’s criteria for the New Black Aesthetic as male-dominated and misogynist. She claims that Ellis’s Callaloo essay disregards most class and gender differences among black artists, but she nevertheless praises him for opening “a discourse with far-ranging implications.”

Lott, Eric. “Hip Hop Fiction.” The Nation, December 19, 1988, 691-692. Lott addresses the dialogue between literary styles in Platitudes, calling it Ellis’s “call for a truce in the black literary world.” He concludes, however, that the debate between Dewayne and Isshee is unbalanced.

Lott, Eric. “Response to Trey Ellis’s ‘The New Black Aesthetic.’” Callaloo 12, no. 1 (Winter, 1989). Lott chides Ellis for oversimplifying complex literary movements and discussing authors with significant differences as if they were in complete agreement. Lott also states that Ellis’s Callaloo article largely ignores class differences among black artists and intellectuals.