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New collection of Ellison essays on writing and art

Going to the Territory, by Ralph Ellison. New York: Random House. 338 pp. $19.95. In this collection of 16 essays, speeches, and interviews dated from 1957 to 1980 and published in ``Contemporary Literature,'' ``The American Scholar,'' ``The Carleton Miscellany,'' and other literary and academic journals, Ralph Ellison has published a worthy addition to his previous volume of essays, ``Shadow and Act.''

These selections represent the themes we associate with Mr. Ellison -- the role and responsibility of the artist to society, craft, and discipline. But his concerns are also with how we view ourselves as Southerners and Americans; Howard Zinn's brave but flawed look at the American South; the contributions of American blacks to culture and jazz; writers Richard Wright and Erskine Caldwell and the responsibility of the black artist to race and craft.

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Of artist Romare Bearden, Ellison says that the painter has ``modified our way of experiencing reality,'' and he laments the Pulitzer Prize denied Duke Ellington. As ever, Ellison refuses to make glib and fashionable comments about artists, blacks, whites, and liberals. This is perhaps what makes him such a perceptive and eloquent spokesperson, and ``Going to the Territory'' such an important book.

Readers having anticipated Ellison's long-awaited second novel may be disappointed, perhaps giving fuel to the argument that he is burnt out. But a careful reading here will remind us that Ellison's standards are high not only for artists and humanists, but for himself as well.

Until his novel is completed and published, however, we do have this second volume of nonfiction from him. Ralph Ellison is a writer who is intellectual without being pedantic, passionate but objective, and the author of one of the great American novels; his new book will not disappoint those who have read his other books. For those who have read neither ``Invisible Man'' nor ``Shadow and Act,'' this book will serve as an insightful and worthy introduction.

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