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Trey Ellis

(b. 1962)


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(b. 1962), novelist, journalist, essayist, and proponent of the New Black Aesthetic.

Trey Ellis's novels, Platitudes (1988) and Home Repairs (1993), are testimonials to a declaration of artistic independence from earlier generations of African American writers from the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Arts movement. As part of a generation of youth of middle-class parents, Ellis feels that the artistic traditions that he sees as having identified African Americans in the past—themes involving southern poverty, slavery, rural isolation and deprivation, and militant or radical responses to racism—can be fused with our materialistic and technological culture and should be parodied and satirized. Ellis sees his own development as exemplary, being a part of both the African American and white worlds. In fact he labels himself and others like him as cultural hybrids, being influenced by numerous aspects of African American and Western values.

Ellis was born to parents who were college professors. He attended private high schools in New Haven, Connecticut, before graduating from Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. He completed a BA in creative writing at Stanford and has traveled to Italy and Africa. Ellis lives in California.

Both of Ellis's novels have autobiographical strains. The central male characters come from middle-class families, have attended Ivy League schools, and are often the only African Americans in class or in social gatherings. Both characters are urbane easterners who fit very well into the diverse, fast-paced lifestyle of New York. When Ellis wrote Platitudes he was working as a translator in Italy, but his talent for recall of the physical and cultural qualities of New York City is remarkable. Platitudes is a story about a writer's appeal for help in developing his story about a middle-class youth; it is answered by an established female writer who writes her own version of the story set in the South, in her eyes, a more “valid”reflection of the African American experience. The parody of both writers’ versions of the story and of the attention given to female writers like Alice Walker points to the “platitudes” of Ellis's novel. Ellis's New Black Aesthetic is provocative but ignores some issues for critics such as Martin Favor, Eric Lott, and Tera Hunter. Ellis's call for cultural fluidity and improvisation to inspire and agitate the reader is not as successful in Home Repairs. Written in the form of a diary, the novel presents the development of a youth from age sixteen to his early thirties. The diary of the protagonist becomes a tool for emotional release and self-education. Like Platitudes, Home Repairs is filled with the images of popular culture: songs, brand names, films. However, images of Hugh Heffner and his playboy world seem to overtake the novel. The protagonist's journey to manhood becomes a one-dimensional preoccupation with sex, sexual fantasies, and conquests. The value of Ellis's new aesthetic is that he represents the next generation of writers to whom audiences look for direction. So far, Platitudes exemplifies this new direction best. In 1999, Ellis published his novel Right Here, Right Now.

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Subjects: Literature.


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