|Ellison's father--an ice and coal salesman--died in 1917, after which his mother was forced to work as a domestic to support her children. Despite his impoverished childhood, Ellison graduated with honors from an all-black high school, where he played trumpet in the school band (he was also its conductor). In 1933 he left Oklahoma on a freight train with a music scholarship to Tuskegee Institute. He ran out of money before his final year, and in 1936, at the height of the Depression, he went to New York for the summer, hoping to make enough money playing his trumpet to finance his studies. Instead, he stayed in the city, working at odd jobs--as a file clerk, a factory worker, and in the cafeteria at the Harlem YMCA. He also studied sculpture, briefly, before he realized that what he wanted to do was write. He met Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, and began writing short stories, essays, and reviews, contributing to the New Masses and other radical publications. To support himself during this period, he also worked for the New Deal's Federal Writers' Project, researching and documenting the games and rhymes of black children. Between 1939 and 1944, Ellison published eight short stories; in 1942 he became managing editor of the Negro Quarterly, and he covered the Harlem race riots for the New York Post. During World War II, he served as a cook in the Merchant Marine as a way of avoiding the "Jim Crow army." He began writing INVISIBLE MAN when he was home on sick leave, and continued to work on it for seven years, assisted by support from his second wife and from occasional work (among other things, he built audio amplifiers, and installed hi-fi equipment). Finally published in 1952, INVISIBLE MAN won the National Book Award. From 1955 to 1957, Ellison lived in Rome as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. There he began work on a second novel, most of which was destroyed in a fire at Ellison's summer home in the Berkshires in 1967. He never wrote another work of fiction, although he produced a collection of essays, SHADOW AND ACT (1962), which collected Ellison's views of black life and folk culture and their effects on the African-American writer. In a 1965 Book Week poll, INVISIBLE MAN was named "the most distinguished work published in the last twenty years."