Three Days Before the Shooting . . .

Three Days Before the Shooting . . .


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At his death in 1994, Ralph Ellison left behind several thousand pages of his unfinished second novel, which he had spent nearly four decades writing. Five years later, Random House published Juneteenth, drawn from the central narrative of Ellison’s epic work in progress. Three Days Before the Shooting . . . gathers in one volume all the parts of that planned opus, including three major sequences never before published. Set in the frame of a deathbed vigil, the story is a gripping multigenerational saga centered on the assassination of a controversial, race-baiting U.S. senator who’s being tended to by an elderly black jazz musician turned preacher. Presented in their unexpurgated, provisional state, the narrative sequences brim with humor and tension, composed in Ellison’s magical jazz-inspired prose style. Beyond its compelling narratives, Three Days Before the Shooting . . . is perhaps most notable for its extraordinary insight into the creative process of one of this country’s greatest writers, and an essential, fascinating piece of Ralph Ellison’s legacy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375759536
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/26/2010
Pages: 1101
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.40(d)

About the Author

Ralph Ellison (1913–94) trained as a musician at Tuskegee Institute from 1933 to 1936 before turning to writing. Invisible Man won the National Book Award. Appointed to the Academy of American Arts and Letters in 1964, Ellison taught at several institutions, including New York University, where he was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities.
John F. Callahan is Morgan S. Odell Professor of Humanities at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He is the editor of the Modern Library edition of The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison and is the literary executor of Ralph Ellison’s estate.
Adam Bradley is an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the author of the critical study Ralph Ellison in Progress.

Date of Birth:

March 1, 1914

Date of Death:

March 16, 1994

Place of Birth:

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Place of Death:

New York City


Tuskegee Institute, 1933-36

Read an Excerpt

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Reading Group Guide

This discussion guide will assist readers in exploring Juneteenth. We hope that it will help create bonds not only between the book and the reader, but also among the members of the group. In your support of this book, please feel free to copy and distribute this guide to best facilitate your program. Thank you.

1. Why the title, Juneteenth? What does the word as well as the occasion Juneteenth come to mean in the novel?

2. Ellison once said that the true American, whatever the particulars of his or her genetic or cultural heritage, is also "somehow black." Why do you think Ellison never reveals Bliss/Sunraider's father's race? If Sunraider lives in the world as a white man, what would it mean to say that he was black, and why would it matter?

3. Do the actions and meditations of the novel answer the "three fatal questions" posed (p. 19) by the race-baiting Senator Sunraider in his pre-assasination speech: "How can the many be as one? How can the future deny the past? And how can the light deny the dark?"

4. Why, after he is mortally wounded, does the Senator call Hickman, and only Hickman, to his hospital bedside? Why do you think Ellison named Hickman Hickman? And why are his initials A.Z.? Do you feel it is significant that Hickman is a jazz musician before he becomes a minister?

5. Hickman names the baby he midwifes into this world Bliss "because they say that's what ignorance is." Does the name come back to haunt Bliss/Sunraider, and also Hickman? Why do you think Bliss later chooses Adam Sunraider for his new name?

6. Why does the sister call Lincoln "Father Abraham" and what is the connection between Lincoln, Bliss, and Hickman? Why is Lincoln so important to Hickman?

7. What connection, if any, is there between the images and performances of religious services, the movies, and political rituals? What is the result of Ellison's using the African-American culture and vernacular for the sermons, church scenes, and jazz in the novel?

8. When Ellison accepted the National Book Award for Invisible Man, he wrote that "I was to dream of a prose which was flexible, and swift as American change is swift, confronting the inequalities and brutalities of our society forthrightly, yet thrusting forth its image of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization." Does his prose in Juneteenth realize this dream?


This discussion guide will assist readers in exploring Juneteenth. We hope that it will help create bonds not only between the book and the reader, but also among the members of the group. In your support of this book, please feel free to copy and distribute this guide to best facilitate your program. Thank you.

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