Must an author be introduced for the first time in prose rather than in parentheses?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

No. You do not need to mention an author’s name in your prose before citing the author in a parenthetical citation. Surnames alone are used in parenthetical citations to lead readers to the corresponding entries in the works-cited list. In the following example, the author’s name in the parenthetical citation does not appear in the prose:

When we first meet Ishmael, he tells us that “whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul . . . I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can” (Melville 3).

Work Cited

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Penguin Books, 2003.