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Don Katz’s letter about Ralph Ellison’s influence

Read Don Katz's letter about Ralph Ellison's influence by Don Katz (audible.com)

Dear Listener,During the winter of 1971 I was a freshman at NYU, and I read two books that changed me. The first was Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury—a book I read in a single afternoon-to-dawn sitting. The second was Invisible Man, an astonishingly artful and complex work of literature written by a man I heard was actually teaching a course at NYU the next semester.

Over the next three years, after Ralph Ellison allowed me into a small seminar focused on the American vernacular, and a year after that, when he took me on as a tutee every Wednesday afternoon until I graduated, one of the greatest of all American writers taught me how to read. Ralph also helped me gain the courage and occasional insight to write, and I went on to make a living as a writer for 20 years after that. Ralph encouraged me and spoke up for me publicly until he died in 1994.

I learned from Ralph Ellison that Americans worked to create an identity from a synthesis of divergent cultures. We created a distinctive way of talking and telling stories, which led to the distinctive voice in the way we wrote. I understood from Ralph that the American experience derived from the process of a nation constantly making and remaking itself, a place that needed to create its own myths and art and even its own sounds because we had to. While Ralph Ellison taught me that Americans needed to create our own archetypes and myths, he also conveyed that in a nation creating itself without kings, a new order was created based on the color of people’s skin.

Because of Ralph I always heard the sound of what I read and what I wrote. Well-composed words sound like music to me, and after being a writer for 20 years, this led directly to an idea that became Audible.com and our 20-years of applying new technologies to the celebration and elevation of the unbridled power of the well-spoken word.

A few feet from my cube is the Ralph Ellison room, and the following is what I wrote about Ralph for the glass wall I see every day: Ralph Ellison’s understanding of the power of the oral tradition and his ability to hear the music in well-wrought arrangements of spoken words informed the vision and mission of Audible from the beginning. Ellison was the teacher and mentor of Audible’s founder. According to Ellison, the way the early American vernacular embraced storytelling around campfires, the braggadocio of our salesmanship, and the sound of our lamenting in the fields became the distinctive voice that defined American novels and our singularly “conscious and conscientious” culture, a culture that created itself “out of whatever it found useful.” Ellison loved the melodies in language and he told stories in a voice that sounded like a coal car coming out of a mine. He loved enormous cigars, jazz, and ideas. In many ways Audible exists to honor his legacy.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that great teachers can’t direct the course and meaning of a life.

Don Katz

CEO, Founder of Audible

Download Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as a Free Audiobook (Available for a Limited Time) | Open Culture

Read Download Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man as a Free Audiobook (Available for a Limited Time) by Dan Colman (openculture.com)



When Ralph Ellison published his first novel, Invisible Man, in 1952, it took the literary world by storm. Orville Prescott, a literary critic at The New York Times, wrote in April of ’52:

Ralph Ellison’s first novel, “The Invisible Man,” is the most impressive work of fiction by an American Negro which I have ever read. Unlike Richard Wright and Willard Motley, who achieve their best effects by overpowering their readers with documentary detail, Mr. Ellison is a finished novelist who uses words with great skill, who writes with poetic intensity and immense narrative drive. “Invisible Man” has many flaws. It is a sensational and feverishly emotional book. It will shock and sicken some of its readers. But, whatever the final verdict on “Invisible Man” may be, it does mark the appearance of a richly talented writer.

Acquired audiobook The Fall and Rise of China by Richard Baum (The Great Courses)

Acquired The Fall and Rise of China by Richard Baum (The Great Courses)

How can we account for China’s momentous - and almost wholly unanticipated - global rise? And what does it mean, for us in the West and for humanity’s future?

Speaking to these vital and fascinating questions, these 48 penetrating lectures by Professor Baum bring to vivid life the human struggles, the titanic political upheavals, and the spectacular speed of China’s modern rebirth. Offering multilevel insight into one of the most astounding real-life dramas of modern history, the lectures weave together the richly diverse developments and sociopolitical currents that created the China you now read about in the headlines.

You’ll get a detailed understanding of all the core events in China’s century of stunning change, including the collapse of the Qing dynasty, the Republican era and civil wars, the "Great Leap Forward", the Cultural Revolution, and the post-Mao economic "miracle". Throughout, Professor Baum reveals highly unusual details that enrich the cinematic sweep of the story. For example, you’ll learn about the Christian warlord who baptized his troops with a fire hose, the strange kidnapping of Chiang K’ai-shek, and Professor Baum’s own smuggling of top-secret documents out of Taiwan.

A core strength of these lectures is that they make sense of the dramatic events of the story by getting deeply at what underlay them, culturally, socially, and historically - leaving you with a nuanced knowledge of the forces moving China’s modern emergence. Bringing alive the passionate reinvention of China with deep discernment and humanity, they portray the confounding, majestic, heart-rending, and visionary story of a modern giant.

Purchased on Audible.com