Flying Home: and Other Stories
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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 Six of them remained unpublished during Ellison's lifetime and were discovered among the author's effects in a folder labeled "Early Stories."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.
story is not clear. Perhaps he began it in New York, where, after a fling at sculpture, he was still trying to be a musician. Life in New York that summer of 1937 was chaotic for Ellison. Like many with artistic aspirations who came of age in the 1930s, Ellison also agitated on behalf of Republican Spain, and was involved in the campaign for the release of the Scottsboro boys, nine young black men convicted and sentenced to death on trumped-up charges of gang-raping two white women in a boxcar in
me or my daddy, I’d fix her.” I said nothing—I was afraid. For though I had seen the old woman about town all my life, she remained to me like the moon, mysterious in her very familiarity; and in the sound of her name there was terror: Ho’ Aunt Mackie, talker-with-spirits, prophetess-of-disaster, odd-dweller-alone in a riverside shack surrounded by sunflowers, morning-glories, and strange magical weeds (Yao, as Buster, during our Indian phase, would have put it, Yao!); Old Aunt Mackie,
sweaty woman at church, I told myself, some friend of Miss Janey’s. But it didn’t help and I could feel her drawing me and I found her lips with mine. It was dry and firm and winey and I could hear her sigh. “Again,” she said, and once more my lips found hers. And suddenly she drew me to her and I could feel her breasts soft against me as once more she sighed. “That was a nice boy,” she said, her voice kind, and I opened my eyes. “That’s enough now, you’re both too young and too old, but you’re
final draft of “I Did Not Learn Their Names” has Ellison’s 1940 address—25 Hamilton Terrace, New York City—written in black ink at the top of the first page. The impressions made by the typewriter keys are similar enough to suggest that the final versions of these stories, except for “Hymie’s Bull,” were typed in New York.) Two fragmentary sketches, called “Bartender” and “One Man’s Woman,” and a much-worked-over story, by turns melodramatic or flat, variously titled “One Who Was Waiting,”
to the narrator and his buddy, and soon becomes I as he tells of Morrie, a white guy with an artificial leg, saving him from falling between two cars. Like “Hymie’s Bull,” “I Did Not Learn Their Names” moves in the syncopated rhythm of the freights its narrator rides, sometimes smoothly and swiftly, sometimes with the herky-jerky motion of cars bumping along, coupling and uncoupling in sudden stops, then returning to crawl or race toward a destination somewhere that is also nowhere. Like his