Kirkus Reviews QR Code
RICHARD WRIGHT READER by Ellen & Michel Fabre--Eds. Wright



Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row

The work of Richard Wright covers such a wide range of thought and style, from Communist challenge to Existential disillusionment, that an anthology is impossible to imagine without distortions, misplaced emphasis. Mrs. Wright and Professor Fabre have made intelligent selections and this large volume does have its own story--Wright's development as a writer, his intense urge to give expression to the black man's oppression, the complexity of his themes. Beginning with a section from Black Boy that tells how Wright forged notes to get books from the Jim Crow library, the non-fiction selections bring together articles previously uncollected: the effect of Joe Louis' victory on Chicago blacks; polemical letters to critics of Native Son; a review of Stein's Wars I Have Seen (underlining the fact that Wright was more influenced by Stein, Dreiser, and Mencken than by writers of the Harlem Renaissance); and the Marxist manifesto, ""A Blueprint for Negro Writing,"" tong out of print. The excerpt from Black Power touches on Wright's controversial advice to Africans struggling against colonialism. One would rather have had more from that work or White Man, Listen! than Wright's haikus or crude, unoriginal verse. Wright's poetic yearnings were more perfectly realized in 12 Million Black Voices, and many of the compelling photographs are reproduced here. In fiction, his stories can stand alone, and bear comparison: from Uncle Tom's Children (1938) to Eight Men (1961), one sees violence give way to alienation as Wright's main concern. Native Son, however, presents a problem. The editors have chosen parts that deal with Bigger's fear and his violent crime, adequate advertisement for the whole work. Also included are sections from three late novels, works generally disregarded because they do not fit conventional ideas of what a black author's subject matter should be. Wright's achievement was not only in his psychological understanding of racism. Much of his work is about inner deprivation, the brutal arrangements the individual must make with life. The editor's notes help to bring out this lost Wright.