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Centennial Salutes to the Birth, Growth and Development of Richard Wright As a Writer
I have long been affected by the literary excellence of Black Boy of all the works of Richard Wright that I have had a reading, teaching experience lasting almost thirty years, a period in which I have continued to wonder what makes it such a wonderful representation of a writer and at the same time remains lively, moving, intriguing, and illuminating to read almost through the pages That this year is the Centenary of his birth, which is deservedly well marked by many literary events, I thought it could be the most needed catalyst to push me to put my thoughts, reflections and memories of this ever-present. Black Boy in print.
Celebrating the life and works of Richard Wright is meaningful and justified for me in Sierra Leone as his works are both Black Boy and Native Son are taught and studied at all levels of our education system starting at secondary school level and have left an indelible impression on all who have read them. I taught Black Boy for nearly ten years from the Milton Margai teacher training college, to librarians in training at Fourah Bay College and my students and I agreed that it was an irreplaceable gem – his style as well as his stoicism and his unwavering pursuit of self-improvement notwithstanding. of all forces against him, being a model for all.
One of America’s greatest African-American writers, Richard Wright was among the first black writers to achieve literary fame and fortune. But that was mostly due to the excellent quality of his work: his vivid descriptions of scenes, the sense of gradation in portraiture, psychological penetration of his characters in various stages of their growth, especially Black Boy, his capture of the traumas, pain. and anxieties of growing up black in the southern states of America in the early twentieth century, and his commitment to championing the cause of black people wherever they live, Africa or the Diaspora.
Richard Nathaniel Wright, the grandson of a slave was born and spent the first years of his life on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi on September 4, 1908. His father, Nathaniel, was an illiterate rancher and his mother, Ella Wilson, was a well-educated school teacher. . The extreme poverty of the family forced them to move to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1913 when Richard was six years old. Although he spent only a few years of his life in Mississippi, those years would play a key role in two of his most recognized works: Native Sonnovel, and his autobiography, Black Boy.
Shortly after moving, his father abandoned the family, leaving his mother to support them alone. His family moved to Jackson, Mississippi to live with relatives. Wright’s whole life was full of such continuous moving from one city to another, some sudden and traumatic, staying with relatives, in orphanages, enduring rifts with family members and teachers, constantly fighting with bullies, white street gangs, as much as his constant battle . against hunger, hypocrisy, parental neglect and the trauma of living in a household of numerous sick members and facing the drudgery of Christian fundamentalism.
So when in the spring of 1925 at the age of 15, Wright wrote his first story “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre”, and it was published in Southern Register, a local black newspaper, he had little support and encouragement from his family. Because his grandmother had already recruited her every side against Richard’s independent and creative spirit.
He had to develop a high level of motivation and boldness to continue. He forged notes with the signatures of white men to borrow books from the library to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for great literature.
He graduated as valedictorian of his 9th grade class in May 1925, and performed another daring defiance of authority by reading his own speech in place of the principal. Memphis still writing and discovering the works of the masters. In 1927 he moved north to Chicago where he joined the communist party and wrote articles and stories for many leftist publications. He later became the leader of the John Reed club which was dominated by the Communist Party. During this time, he edited Left Front and contributed to New Masses Magazines.
In 1937, he moved to New York City and began work on a Writers Project guidebook to the city entitled New York Panoramaand later became the Harlem editor of the Daily Worker. He gained national attention for his four short stories in Uncle Tom’s Childrenwhat earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship Award; which allowed him to complete his first novel Native Son in 1940. Native Son later became the first Book of the Month Club selection by an African-American author.
He married Ellen Poplar in 1941, and together they had two daughters, Julie and Rachel.
In 1944 he broke free from the Communist Party. After moving to Paris in 1946, and becoming a French citizen in 1947, he wrote The Outsider, Wild Vacation and Black Power. His travels throughout Europe, Asia and Africa became the subject for many non-fiction works he wrote. In 1949 he contributed to the anti-communist anthology The God Who Failedand his essay was published in the Atlantic Monthly three years earlier.
In 1955, he visited Indonesia for the Bandung Conference. His recorded observations of it were published in his book The Colored Curtain: Report on the Bandung Conference.
His other works include White man, listen!, The Long Dreamand Eight Men; and a host of other publications.
He died in Paris in November 1960, leaving an unfinished book Patrol Act which was published by his daughter, Julia. , in January 2008.
Richard Wright’s most significant contribution is in accurately and vividly portraying blacks to white as well as black readers thus becoming essential reading to what it means to be a black American and equally an American of any ethnic background.
His eldest daughter Julia Wright journalist and the literary executor of the estate of Richard Wright edited the last of his books to be published: Haiku, Law of Fatherand Black Power. On the occasion of the Richard Wright Centennial she sets the background showing when her mother, Ellen Poplar married her father, Richard Wright, on March 12, 1941 and their life together until her death. While he died in 1960 she died on April 6, 2004, at the ripe old age of 92. forty four years after Richard. They are both buried in exile in Paris. Ellen was the Executor of the Richard Wright Estate for many decades before her death, and was also a literary agent in her own right. In the late seventies, Celia returned to Paris from her freelance journalistic work in Africa to help her aging mother handle the management of Richard Wright’s papers and books. Since 2004, Celia has taken over fully and completely representing the Estate in place of her late mother.
She convinced Harper Collins to publish her last unpublished draft, uncorrected and unsubmitted. Death literally prevented him from giving it the ending he would have wanted for it. It is called “Law of a father” and was published by Harper Collins on January 8 with a brief introduction by Celia, describing how she found it and relating to the conflict between the generations it presents.
Remembering the readership of Richard Wright, deprived for so long of his political non-fiction written in exile at the height of the Cold War, she tried to publish those three books, essentially as a trilogy, Black Power, White Man, Listen Up!, The Colored Curtain. They, according to her, were allowed to sell out for reasons of poor sales – as some claimed; or for reasons of blacklisting as others have claimed.
Again, Harper Collins worked in agreement with her to fulfill her wish to return these later writings to the public by publishing an omnibus containing all three works, which hit the bookstores in February 2008.
Meanwhile, the idea of a preliminary series of Pre-Centennial Lectures and meetings to plan Richard Wright events was born. The idea was to give autobiographical talks based on her own work in progress wherever interest in Richard Wright was strong and to leave her hosts free to brainstorm and plan their own creative tributes to Richard Wright from Centennial Committees to Festivals to art and the creation of landmarks and encouragement from his ideas, from literacy to the ceaseless struggle against racism.
During 2006, she followed the trail of A century of interest in him from Seattle to the University of Columbia, Missouri ….. In New Orleans, she spoke about the amazing similarity with Katrina, of the floods portrayed in “The Children of Uncle Tom.” and “Eight Men”” only to speak the following week in arid Arizona on campus but also in the community. She spoke at the University of Massachusetts and a few days later at Temple University and at the University of Pennsylvania, she was the guest of Professor Joyce Anne Joyce, one of the first prominent Richard Wright scholars. … Meanwhile, Professor Jerry Ward stimulated the creation of Richard Wright Reading Circles throughout the South while women such as Professor Maryemma Graham and Dr Colia Clark traced a web of revival all over the country.
In 2008 there was a lot of activity from February 20th to 24th in Natchez, The Natchez Literary and Film Festival completely dedicated to Richard Wright, took place from March 28th to March 30th. She spoke on the topic of Transmission and Resistance at the Black Writers Conference. at Medgar Evers College.. On March 29 at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, Howard Dodson and Professor Maryemma Graham were on a panel of historians discussing : Richard Wright at 100 : looking back and forward hosted by the Organization of American Historians. April 13, 2008 was Richard Wright Day at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. with a day-long memorial ceremony where Celia shared the keynote speech with her longtime friend, Pr. Jerry Ward.
April 20 to 27 was Richard Wright Week in Philadelphia. June 19 and 20: American University of Paris, organized an international seminar on Richard Wright. June 28: A seminar on Richard Wright was held in Hiroshima, Japan, sponsored by the Japan Black Studies Association.
From the 4 to the 12 of September of 2008 at Jackson Mississippi will be observed as Richard Wright week in various places. Then on October 1st 2008 Celia Wright will give the first DuBois Institute lecture at Harvard. Activities celebrating the centenary of Richard Wright’s birth will cross over in 2010 to coincide with the commemoration of his untimely death in 1960.
“Everyone internalized his or her Richard Wright … If, as his elder daughter, I had a personal emphasis to put, I would say that although the elites of Academia claimed him and actually deconstructed and post-deconstructed him, he belongs. finally to the community. Bigger was electrocuted by the State, x-rayed by the outstanding Academy, cared for and attention, where academicians can be most devoted – and yet, avoidable still lives and kicks there looking for answers to questions that are asked numerous” Julia Wright, Paris December 18, 2007
Through his writing Richard Wright not only captured his experiences as well as those of other black people in the written word, but through him the written word became a weapon used to destroy ignorance, racism, economic violence and classicism. He challenged commonly held stereotypes and notions of inferiority, defining blacks as full characters who were free to act on the stage of human history as ordinary people. The subjects and issues with which his characters struggled represented the worst of human experience: poverty, illiteracy, violence, race, resignation, the orphaned child, hunger, capitalism, racism, colonialism and war. Wright’s thoughts are derived from the political and social fabric of his time reflecting contributions of great men before him such as WEB Dubois and Paul Robeson and in turn passed a legacy of social consciousness in literature and influenced the civil rights and liberation struggles of the second half of . the twentieth century, including people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.
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