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Trading Twelves

Trading Twelves

(2000)
Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison And Albert Murray
A non fiction book by

 
Some friendships spring instantly to life, while others require a lengthy period of germination. The rapport between Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray fits into the second category. Both attended the Tuskegee Institute in the fall of 1935, and while they were never formally introduced, Murray recalls being impressed by his fellow student's formidable intellect, not to mention his snappy wardrobe. It wasn't until 1947, however, that their relationship got rolling. The two shared a love for jazz and photography and the American vernacular, along with a comically skeptical view of the social sciences. They were also joined by a sense of literary vocation that seems truly bracing in our own age of ironic retrenchment: "He and I conceded nothing to anybody," recalls Murray, "when it came to defining what is American and what is not and not yet."

Their intention was to create a "universally appealing American epic." Ellison delivered his epic, Invisible Man, in 1952, while Murray's arrived on the installment plan, parceled out among nine books and three decades. Yet this divergence in their careers, which might have easily divided them into literary turtle and hare, never made a dent in their friendship--a fact amply testified to by the letters collected in Trading Twelves. The title refers to the old custom whereby jazz soloists would lob 12-bar phrases back and forth, upping the ante with each exchange. Murray and Ellison seem similarly energized by their epistolary cutting contest. Here's the latter on the as-yet-unpublished Invisible Man, which he describes in surprisingly gutbucket terms:
For me it's just a big fat ole Negro lie, meant to be told during cotton picking time over a water bucket full of corn, with a dipper passing back and forth at a good fast clip so that no one, not even the narrator himself, will realize how utterly preposterous the lie actually is.
Elsewhere he urges his correspondent to hurry up "that low-down southern cullud jive of yours and spread it all over western civilization," while Murray takes their mutual idol William Faulkner to task: "As for Marse Faulkner, he's good, but he ain't never come to terms with poro & straightening combs, let alone jazz and all that cadillac kick dynamism." Decades after they were written, the letters in Trading Twelves remain an ardent and entertaining conversation about art, politics, race, and the intricacies of what Murray would later call Omni-American life. --James Marcus

 
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Hardback Editions

June 2000 : USA Hardback
Title: Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (Modern Library)
Author(s): Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray
ISBN: 0-375-50367-6 / 978-0-375-50367-2 (USA edition)
Publisher: Modern Library
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

Paperback Editions

May 2001 : USA Paperback
Title: Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray
Author(s): Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray
ISBN: 0-375-70805-7 / 978-0-375-70805-3 (USA edition)
Publisher: Vintage
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

Kindle Editions

April 2010 : USA, Canada Kindle edition
Title: Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray
Author(s): Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray
Publisher: Vintage
Availability: Amazon   Amazon CA   



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