Books: Ralph Ellison: The Last Sublime Riffs Of a Literary Jazzman

He started it nearly 50 years ago. But Ralph Ellison's posthumous novel was worth the wait

Perhaps it is only fitting that Juneteenth (Random House; 368 pages; $25), Ralph Ellison's long-awaited second novel, almost 50 years in the making, would be published in 1999, the centennial year of Duke Ellington's birth. For Ellington and Ellison, along with the painter Romare Bearden, were practitioners of a shared aesthetic, three titans of an African-American modernism, embodying in their work elegance, eloquence and elan.

They are the great romantics of the black tradition: what Ellington played, Bearden painted; what Bearden painted and Ellington played, Ellison put into words. Together their work expressed the belief that the ultimate source of a...

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