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Fanny McConnell Ellison dies at 93

The writer and political activist died from complications from hip surgery
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fanny McConnell Ellison, a writer, political activist and theater director who helped edit her husband Ralph’s masterpiece, “Invisible Man,” has died. She was 93.

Ellison died Nov. 19 at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan of complications from hip surgery, said John Callahan, Ralph Ellison’s literary executor.

The couple met through poet Langston Hughes, who set them up on a date after Fanny Ellison told him she wanted to meet a man who was interested in books. They were married from August 1946 until Ralph Ellison’s death at 80 in April 1994. Her first marriage ended in divorce during World War II.

Fanny McConnell was born in 1911 in Louisville, Ky., and grew up in Colorado and in Chicago. She attended Fisk University and the University of Iowa, from which she graduated.

She moved to Chicago, where she founded the Negro People’s Theater in 1938. She also wrote a column about politics as well as reviews and essays for the Chicago Defender.

She moved to New York from Washington, D.C., in 1943 to become assistant to the director of the National Urban League and met Ellison the next year. After the marriage, she worked for a charity supporting medical missionary work. She also typed the manuscript for “Invisible Man,” which Ellison wrote in longhand.

Callahan said Ralph Ellison readily acknowledged that his wife provided editorial assistance on the book, which was published in 1952 and is considered one of the great works of 20th-century literature.

Ralph Ellison struggled for decades to write a second book. After his death, Fanny Ellison authorized Callahan, a professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., to gather some of his essays into a book and some short stories into another. She also asked him to fashion a novel out of more than 2,000 pages of unfinished fragments. The novel, “Juneteenth,” was published in 1999 to mixed reviews.

Fanny Ellison lived in the apartment at 150th Street and Riverside Drive that the couple had moved to in the 1950s. In 2003, a sculpture was erected in Ralph Ellison’s honor in the park across the street.

“Fanny loved to go down and spend a little time there,” Callahan said in a telephone interview. “She was a kind of embodiment of the ideal of democratic equality that Ralph wrote about and cared about so much.”

She left no survivors.