RICHARD WRIGHT: Ordeal of a Native Son by Addison Gayle

RICHARD WRIGHT: Ordeal of a Native Son

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In this full-scale biography, Professor Gayle (English, CUNY) recapitulates what Richard Wright, in his own lifetime (1908-1960), wrote about his life and his political and literary activities and beliefs. He touches all the topics familiar from Wright's own work and that of previous biographers and critics (Fabre, Brignano, Webb): his misogyny traced to the same old Freudian ""difficult relationship"" with his ""high-toned"" mother; Communist Party activities and his denunciation of the Party in The God That Failed; his interest in existentialism as a friend to Beauvoir and Sartre; his ambivalent interest in the new Africa and the Third World; his Parisian exile and growing estrangement from his own American subject matter; his rising paranoia; and his mysterious death. But Gayle also had access to expurgated files of the FBI, CIA, and the State Department--the agencies which haunted Wright, which may have used him, and which, according to Gayle, drove him to a premature heart attack. Was Wright a victim or a collaborator? Although Gayle shows that the reasons for Wright's paranoia were real enough, he presents not the definitive answer but dozens of suggestive, if sometimes unintelligible, questions: i.e., ""Was this the intent of an interview accredited to him, which he never gave, in a magazine whose representative he had turned down only a week before the supposed publication, titled 'Amid the Alien Corn'?"" Who knows? Will the intrepid reader successfully negotiate the new and terrible information about the political surveillance of an American artist and the slough of rhetorical questions to emerge sodden but triumphant with some biographical glimmer of this complicated man? Muddied.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1980
Publisher: Doubleday