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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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“Richard Wright was an American, tugging at the conscience and the submerged sense of reason

of America, and American should be proud to have produced him.  Perhaps someday a more

mature America will embrace her rejected native son.  Perhaps that time will come”



Books by Richard Wright


Richard Wright: Early Works  / Black Boy  / Native Son  / Uncle Tom's Children / 12 Million Black Voices  / Richard Wright: Later Works


The Outsider  /  Pagan Spain Black Power  /  White Man Listen!  / The Color Curtain Savage Holiday / The Long Dream

Eight Men: Short Stories  / Haiku / American Hunger / Lawd Today!  /  A Father’s Law

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November 28, 2010 and Richard Wright

By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Dillard University


November 28, 2010 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Richard Wright’s death, bringing to closure the celebration of his centennial.  November 28, 2010 marks the birth, for those who demand reason and critical thought in a time of crisis, of principled readings and rereadings of Wright’s published works.  They read in anticipation that some of his unpublished works will be printed in the coming years.  Truly, Wright’s works are equipment for living in the chaotic twenty-first century as much as they were in the troubled twentieth century.  The moment of birth and rebirth involves reconfiguring how the voice of a genius from Mississippi continues to bid the world to listen!

But it is not easy to listen to Wright in 2010, especially for people who cling to hope as they desperately seek to confirm the goodness of mankind.  They do not hear the soothing platitudes they need for comfort.  Skeptics and cynics, however wrongheaded they might be, stand a better chance of hearing Wright’s demands for a truth, for making justice more palpable, and for the purging of guilt.  Yet, it is inevitable that all must listen to Wright, or at least overhear what he is saying, because his spirit haunts the world in a quest for peace.

Fifty years ago, Hoyt W. Fuller was able to find a small measure of peace and to mitigate his grief by remembering Wright “has spoken with eloquence and with all the power of his great overburdened heart that which he felt so deeply” (550-51).1  Fuller concluded his meditation on Richard Wright with a modicum of hope: “Richard Wright was an American, tugging at the conscience and the submerged sense of reason of America, and American should be proud to have produced him.  Perhaps someday a more mature America will embrace her rejected native son.  Perhaps that time will come” (555). Unlike Fuller, we are suspicious of America’s conscience and sense of reason, beholding them as quite remote possibilities.  We have greater anxiety about America’s capacity to remember.

Thus, the word perhaps opens cautionary dimensions.  Perhaps those for whom Wright is more a living presence than a canonized writer, those who will to learn from Wright’s works the dignity of critical reflection and the great suffering that integrity demands—well, perhaps they will succeed in persuading others of the unending importance of Wright’s visions, questions, and ideas. Perhaps they will fail.  We can take consolation in the fact that they shall not fail and succeed simultaneously in a future of unarticulated designs.  Perhaps the sheer force of uncertainty is our best assurance that the most essential qualities of Wright’s intelligence and foresight will not just vanish in the twenty-first century.  Even from another world, Mississippi’s native son has audible authority in the world we inhabit.

1 Fuller’s “On the Death of Richard Wright" was originally published in the August 1961 issue of Southwest Review. It was reprinted in Black Southern Voices. Ed. John Oliver Killens and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. New York: Merid1an, 1992. Page numbers refer to the reprinting.

Dr. Jerry Ward is a distinguished professor of English and African American World Studies at Dillard University, New Orleans, LA. Ward spent 20 years as the Lawrence Durgin Professor of Literature at Tougaloo College in Jackson. He is recognized as one of the leading experts on Wright. His credentials concerning Wright include, co-editor of The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008), to be published in 2006 by Greenwood Press; founding member of the Richard Wright Circle, and his recent portrayal of Richard Wright in the Mississippi Humanities Council's Mississippi Chautauqua Writers series.

The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. $18.95  /  The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)

Richard Wright Papers

Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

New Haven, Connecticut / April 1994

An American Goes Back to Africa: Richard Wright’s Journey of Discovery (Lewis)

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The Most Native of Sons: A Biography of Richard Wright (1970)

By John A. Williams

America's disregard of Richard as an artist and a man, plus his own interest in examining the mechanics of the oppression of black people, may have led him into his next venture—a trip to Africa. For it all began in Africa; the slave trade and slavery; lost roots, forgotten heritages. Where better to continue the study of what was happening to Negroes than in Africa?

The idea was first suggested by Mrs. George Padmore, who was a guest of the Wrights. Her husband had remained behind in London to work with Kwame Nkrumah, who was going to ask for self-government for the Gold Coast (later Ghana) that summer. In fact, Mrs. Padmore's suggestion was specific: go to the Gold Coast.

The postwar years had seen a ferment for freedom around the world in the colonies of Britain, France, The Netherlands, and Belgium. "What about the Four Freedoms?" the people in the colonies wanted to know. Keeping pace with the cresting desire for independence, the Fifth Pan-African Congress had been held in Manchester, England, only the year before. Wright's Ghana in the 1950s

Wright's biographer John A. Williams wrote in The Most Native of Sons, a Biography of Richard Wright: "The life of a small black boy in a small country town in the Deep South could be very peaceful, as it sometimes was for Richard. Under the bright, hot summer sun, he fished with his father and his brother, walked slowly along the dusty roads, or played in the fields. Though the wounds of segregation in the Deep South and throughout the country always followed him, Wright said, 'I know America. I know what a great nation and people America could be but won't be until there is only one American, regardless of his color or his religion or anything else'." Southern Literary Trail

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Native Son (1951) (B&W Ep) [VHS] (1949)

Richard Wright (Actor), Gloria Madison (Actor), Pierre Chenal

When originally released in Europe as Sangre Negra in 1950, Native Son—the film—was a long time coming for Wright. The author had fought for the integrity of his original novel enough to take up playing Bigger Thomas himself. When released for American audiences as much as 30 minutes of film was left on the editing room floor. It would be interesting to know what was left out, but one can make an educated guess.

For those of you who have read the novel this may not seem odd, but the main parts left out of the film have to do with miscegenation (Bigger kissing Ms Dalton) and Communism (the word isn't even mentioned!!). What is left is a dry husk of novel, but it leaves one to wonder what American audiences (or rather the censors) were ready to show in American theatres.

Several liberties were taken by the director (and Wright?) that may also prove interesting for further conversation. Bessie, Bigger's one-dimensional love interest, is killed in the movie also, but it comes to the reader/viewer in the form of a flashback in the prison scene (Fate).

Also, there is an interesting dream sequence where Bessie comes to Bigger like a Judas figure and Bigger runs through the cotton fields of his dream to his waiting father. . .  It's refreshing to see his father appear in the dream sequence considering that it's NOT in the book and Wright's father had left him at an early age. Wright may have been an excellent though 'confused' writer, but he is NO actor!! I just imagined Bigger to be a little more thuggish than Wright could pull-off. But he should get an E for Effort: Losing 50 pounds to play the role, fighting to get the film made in Europe since he had Communism affiliations during the Macarthy trials, and just being an all around 'Daemonic Genius.' I'd recommend the film for its extra-literary qualities. If your teaching the novel, give your self a 90-minute break!! But the Book is Better than the Film!!! T.A. Stewart

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Why does Pres. Obama denounce the Burma unfair election process but not Haiti upcoming unfair elections?—By Dan Beeton—Haiti is scheduled to hold elections on Nov. 28, and nothing —neither the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people nor the fact that more than 1 million earthquake survivors remain homeless—seems likely to convince the Haitian government or its international backers that the vote should be postponed. It should be. Why? The electoral process is rigged.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems happy to go along with the charade. . . .In Haiti, as in Burma, several parties, including the most popular, Fanmi Lavalas, are being kept off the ballot in an overtly anti-democratic move. Fanmi Lavalas has won every election it has participated in, and authorities seem determined to prevent that from happening again. In Haiti, as in Burma, a council handpicked and controlled by the government is overseeing the electoral process. And in Haiti, as in Burma, the popular party's leader is kept from rallying supporters.—LaTimes Toussaint Table

posted 21 November 2010

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

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#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Home  Jerry W. Ward Jr. Table and Bio   Richard Wright Table

Related files:  Open Note to President Barack Obama Black American Narrative Does Not End  Richard Wright Print Resources  China II Report