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An extraordinary testament, part formal biography and part memoir, to the tortured, angry talent of the author of Native Son and Black Boy. Walker, a highly regarded retired Professor of American Literature at Jackson State University, author of the novel Jubilee and the poems For My People, here makes--and marvelously proves--the case for an all-encompassing biography of Wright by a black author. Her interest in Wright began during the 1930's in Chicago, where she worked with him, she as a writer and he as an editor, on the Federal Writer's Project; and it is out of her sense of him during that formative time--the decade after his ""escape"" from Mississippi but before his move to New York, Native Son and fame--that the strange tension of her biography spirals. Walker's primary interest is in the psychology of Wright's talent; and whether drawing on her research on his last years in Paris or excerpting, as she does once, from her own diary, her focus remains consistently and critically on Wright's thinking--his hatred of black women (he had two white wives), his preoccupation with rape and violence, his ambivalence towards the US, his emotional scars from growing up in a racist South. There is, admittedly, quite a lot of psychobiographical jargon here--Walker repeats the phrases ""psychosexual spectrum,"" ""ambivalence"" and ""alienation"" without mercy--yet her repetitions are not without a certain sincere charm; and her discussions of Wright's literary influences, from Poe to Freud, present a complex and well-wrought analysis. Erudite, conscientious, at once personal and broad-sweeping, this masterful study makes a rich contribution to our sense of Wright's place in the American literary tradition.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Dodd, Mead