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Richard Wright “was very preoccupied by the impact of racism.”

In Black Folk who matter..., It's a Black Thing That You Need To Understand..., The Book Report on April 19, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Richard Wright, the acclaimed author of “Native Son” and “Black Boy,”
was born in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, but it is Philadelphia
that is honoring him with the proclamation of Richard Wright Week from
April 20- 27, 2008. Wright, who would have turned 100 this September, will
be the focus of a number of citywide presentations, including a
special Robin’s Bookstore address from the author’s daughter, Julia
Wright. The acclaimed author’s final manuscript, “A Father’s Law
($14.95, HarperCollins)” was just released by the younger Wright in
honor of her father’s birthday.

“As a present for his centennial, I dug up his last unfinished novel,”
explained Wright. “It’s the only existing draft of what he was working
on when he died. ‘A Father’s Law’ is about the relationship of a Black
police chief and his brilliant university-bound son. The police chief
slowly comes to suspect his son is the serial killer that he has been
assigned and promoted to find and punish.”

The novel was written during a six-week period near the end of
Wright’s life. “The book is unfinished, so you don’t know if the
father is imagining it, or whether the father has indeed a serial
killer for a son. It is an extraordinary book. Had he lived to finish
and perfect it, I believe it would have been a masterpiece. As it is,
it is riveting reading.”

Wright, the grandson of a slave, was born on the Rucker Plantation in Roxie,
Mississippi September 4, 1908. Soon after his family moved to Memphis,
Tennessee, in 1913, his father, a former sharecropper, abandoned the family, leaving his mother to support them alone. His family moved to Jackson, Mississippi to live with
relatives, and he graduated as valedictorian of his 9th grade class in May 1925, but left school a few weeks after entering high school. However, even as a youngster, Wright knew his calling. At the age of 15, Wright wrote his first story “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre”, and it was published in the Southern Register, a local Black newspaper.
Wright’s daughter explained that her father died prematurely at age 52
in Paris from the combined childhood effects of malnutrition and the stress of
the FBI’s continued investigation for being a member of the Communist
Party between 1932 and 1942. He departed the party in 1942 because of
ideological disputes.

“He spent some time in the communist party before effectively leaving
the United States never to return,” said Wright. “For people like (former FBI Director) J. Edger Hoover, once a communist always a communist. My father had grown beyond communism, but remained under surveillance and duress for the whole of his life, especially abroad where they were fearful he would denounce racism in the United States
in France where he lived.”

The literary giant raw and powerful prose was a source of fascination
for poet Lamont B. Steptoe. “I made a point of taking a course in
Black literature where I read ‘Uncle Tom’s Children,'” recalled
Steptoe. “I found the work compelling, poetic, nightmarish and
unforgettable. I made it a point to read everything that was published
by Wright. In 1992, I journeyed to Paris for a conference at the
Sorbonne in honor of Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Chester Himes
that would bring together many of the surviving members of the heady
days of the Black ex-patriot community in Paris from the fifties up
through the late sixties. There I met Ellen Wright, Julia Wright, the
late Ollie Harrington, who was one of Wright’s closest friends and
Wright’s grandson, Malcolm.”

The younger Wright noted that her father tackled astonishingly modern
themes for novels written over 45 years ago.

“He was very preoccupied by the impact of racism on the mind of Black
men and Black women,” said Julia. “That is exemplified in his study
‘The Mind of Bigger Thomas’ and his concerns throughout his whole life
on what makes a Black man angry. (He wondered) can we act on some of
these factors and give Black male minorities a rest from duress? It’s
such a present day problem and it’s being debated everywhere today.
It amazes me when I speak to audiences because I find so many time
bubbles in his work.”

“Red Ink: Celebrating the Radical Tradition in Literature” with Julia
Wright discussing Richard Wright and his work will feature Lamont
Steptoe and other area writers on Sunday April 27, 2008 at 2pm at
Robin’s Book Store, 108 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia. For more
information on various Richard Wright Week activities visit
www.robinsbookstoreonline.com or call 215-735-9600.

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