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Mon, 11.27.1911

Fanny Ellison, Writer and Editor born

Fanny Ellison

*Fanny Ellison was born on this date in 1911. She was a Black editor, writer, and literary activist.

Born Fannie Mae McConnell in Louisville, Kentucky, she was the daughter of Ulysses McConnell and Willie Mae Brock. Her parents divorced when she was a year old, and her mother took her to Pueblo and Denver, Colorado.  They lived in poverty there but moved to Chicago, where she finished high school. Young McConnell enrolled at Fisk University, where she assisted writer James Weldon Johnson.  

She left Fisk because of a lack of money. She then received a scholarship at the University of Iowa, where she graduated. Moving back to Chicago, she founded the Negro People's Theater in 1938. She later worked for the Chicago Defender, writing a column called Along the Political Front, reviews, and essays. Her marriage to Ligon Buford, who had also worked with the Negro People's Theater, ended in divorce. During the Second World War, she worked as a clerk for the War Production Board in Washington, DC.  In 1943, she moved to New York to become assistant to Lester Granger, director of the National Urban League.

When she arrived in New York, she told painter Spinky Alston she wanted to meet a man who cared deeply about books, and he put her in touch with an unknown, aspiring writer named Ralph Ellison. A week later, she met Ralph at Frank's Restaurant in Harlem. Assuming he had little money, she ordered chicken à la king, the least expensive item on the menu, while he, not wanting to embarrass her, ordered the same thing. When the bill arrived, he pulled out a wad of notes - his recently received merchant marine pays for the month. Fanny laughed; they lingered until closing time and were a couple. They were married in August 1946.

After their marriage, she worked for the American Medical Centre for Burma Frontiers. Her income helped support Ralph Ellison during the seven years it took him to write Invisible Man (1953). She also produced Ralph's final typescript, sometimes lightly penciling in corrections or queries. Over the years, he freely acknowledged her assistance. In 1965, she stopped working full-time and devoted herself to helping Ralph with his correspondence and other chores. The couple had no children but doted on the children of friends. After Ralph Ellison's death, she fulfilled his wish to place his book and papers at the Library of Congress.

She oversaw the publication of his essays, short stories, and, in 1999, Juneteenth, the central narrative of his long-awaited, unfinished second novel. In his letters, Ralph sometimes romanticized about his wife, who left no surviving family. Fanny Mae McConnell Ellison died on November 19, 2005.

To be a Writer
To Become an Editor


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