24 August 2007

The story behind Ralph Ellison's unpublished novel

From The Washington Post's comprehensive article on what happened to Ellison's work after Invisible Man:
From the beginning, Callahan and Bradley had been staring at three main forms of Ellison material: the handwritten pages, the pages produced on a typewriter and more than 80 floppy disks. The computer material struck Callahan as bewildering. Bradley, then 19, raised in a computer era, was fascinated by it. Immediately he wanted to find the make of Ellison's first computer. It was something called an Osborne 1. Ellison bought it in 1982. It weighed about 25 pounds. Bradley searched throughout the country for someone who might still have one, the better to understand how using it may have effected Ellison's writing. Finally, he found a science fiction writer in Canada who still used that model. "He said it was the closest thing to actual writing by hand," explains Bradley.

Callahan had long been mystified by something they discovered going through the endless files of Ellison's work. Scenes written to near perfection in the '50s and '60s would be revisited, and rewritten, 25 years later. If only Ellison had just gone forward instead of obsessing about sections that had already been polished, Callahan reasoned, "I believe he could have finished the novel in the 1970s. It's really sad."

But Bradley began to think he knew the answer: Ellison -- who had a lifelong fascination with technology and compulsively took apart radios and put them back together -- became seduced by the new machine, by the way he could move paragraphs up and down the screen, insert new words and delete old ones instantaneously. As he transferred his earlier work to the new medium, the words exploded. The shifting and shaping of his second novel became a new kind of mania.

Bradley went back over disks containing certain scenes, spreading out the printouts again and even painstakingly color-coding them in comparison with scenes that had been written on a manual typewriter.
This fascinating, heartfelt article details the process that went into piecing together Ellison's 40+ years of work. Most definitely worth reading.

Three Days Before the Shooting will be released next year.

(via James Tata)

1 comment:

treena taniesha said...

This is really interesting. I wonder how that thing works as "the closest to actual writing by hand." Interesting that a technical fascination might distract you from your life's work. Unless of course that was his life's work. I feel a bit distracted (or even uninterested) in my own "life's work" sometimes. It's funny. One day you think you know what it is and are excited. And then a few years later you wonder what all the fuss is ever about--what does it really matter.

It is raining.