Richard Wright: Hurling Words into the Darkness

Wright-stampConstantly criticized for being too ideological, too sociological, too sensational, and controversial for both the bluntness of his literary style, as well as the directness with which he confronted racism and injustice, Richard Wright (1908-1960) nonetheless became a towering figure of American letters.  His impact on the way we view issues of race, class, and the inhumanities still haunting us today remains virtually unparalleled.

Mississippi-born, Wright moved to Chicago in the 1920’s, and much of his work—including his monumental Native Son (1940)—is set against the city’s backdrop.  His outrage over racism and his concern for its socio-economic consequences led him to join the Communist Party.  His early writings thus appeared in small, mostly left-wing publications like the magazine New Masses, but after 1938, when he won a prize for four short stories from Story magazine, most of his major work acquired landmark status, including those four stories published that same year as Uncle Tom’s Children, Native Son, of course, 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States (1941), Black Boy (1944), and The Outsider (1953).  12 Million Black Voices caused the FBI to monitor him for the rest of his life.

WrightMuch of Wright’s work revealed not only the terrifying depth of racial hatred, but also the prying, condescending, and ultimately damaging nature of a white liberalism supposedly on the side of the oppressed.  From 1947 on he lived a kind of self-exile in France, where, among writers like Sartre and de Beauvoir, he produced The Outsider, considered by some to be the first consciously existential novel written by an American.  His relationship to those French intellectuals, as well as to both American and African blacks in France was, however, criticized by James Baldwin in his eulogistic essay “Alas, Poor Richard.”  Years earlier, in his famous essay “Many Thousands Gone,” Baldwin had also criticized Native Son and Wright’s creation of its main character, Bigger Thomas.  Having, as we alluded to above, endured much criticism already, such assaults seemed like the deepest betrayals from someone he considered his literary son.

Wright-NativeSonIn 1944 the Book-of-the-Month Club, which had helped make Native Son a national sensation—it sold over 200,000 copies in less than three weeks—said it would accept only the first part of Wright’s massive autobiography American Hunger.  Wright renamed that first part Black Boy.  The second part, retaining the name American Hunger, would not be published until 1977.  However, in 1944 the Atlantic Monthly published an excerpt of American Hunger in two parts (in August and September).  In my book Black Writing from Chicago, I included a shortened version of this original Atlantic piece with my summaries of the omitted parts.  It chronicles that crucial 1933 to 1937 period in Wright’s life, where he is publishing his first work and laying the foundations for nearly all his major work to come.  Among the works mentioned or alluded to in the original essay are the “crude” revolutionary poem “I Have Seen Black Hands,” his first piece of journalism, “Joe Louis Uncovers Dynamite” (about black Chicago’s reaction to the Louis-Baer fight), and “Big Boy Leaves Home,” which would become one of the four stories in Uncle Tom’s Children.  What dominates the narrative, however, is his relationship to the Communist Party.

It was strained nearly from the beginning.  “I felt that Communists could not possibly have a sincere interest in Negroes,” he writes.  “I was cynical and I would rather have heard a white man say that he hated Negroes, which I could have readily believed….”  After a short-lived infatuation, Wright began seeing how the Party handing down “decisions” regardless of what its local members felt.   It also attempted to control personal freedoms, especially the freedom of artists and writers, and he himself was labelled “a smuggler of reaction,” a “bastard intellectual,” an “incipient Trotskyite.”  “It was claimed,” says Wright, “that I possessed an ‘anti-leadership attitude’ and that I was manifesting ‘seraphim tendencies’—a phrase meaning that one has withdrawn from the struggle of life and considers oneself infallible.”  I ended the excerpts I had strung together for Black Writing from Chicago with Wright watching the Communist Party go by in Chicago’s May Day parade.  He especially regards the blacks marching with them and writes that, “…an objectivity of vision was being born within me.  A surging sweep of many odds and ends came together and formed an attitude, a perspective.  ‘They’re blind,’ I said to myself.  ‘Their enemies have blinded them with too much oppression.’”  A new determination to continue writing was also born.  “I would hurl words into this darkness,” says Wright, “and wait for an echo; and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”

This piece represented Wright’s public break with the Party, a break which had been made nearly seven years earlier.   When it appeared, New Masses, the site of so many of his early works, denounced him.

 Go to a list of Black Writers written about on this site.
 Go to the lead post on James Baldwin.
 Go to Black Writing from Chicago, and to the Teaching Diversity main page.

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Guzman for Aurora: The Parade

Guz4Aurora3bThe short VIDEO below shows highlights from the Guzman for Aurora contingent marching in Aurora’s Memorial Day Parade. The support for Rick Guzman’s run for Aurora mayor was overwhelming: around 200 people marched, making it the parade’s largest group.  Check out how surprised even the parade’s announcer was.  ”You guys roll deep,” he said.  ”I thought this was two units, but this is all Guzman for Aurora they tell me!” And he kept being surprised.  As the group was finally all passing by, he spotted Rick’s wife and yelled, “Desiree, you guys really roll deep!”

But success doesn’t allow you to sit back.  ”The pressure’s on now,” Rick said.  ”The other candidates realize how much they have to step it up—so now we do too.”

Go to the Guzman for Aurora website to learn more about Rick’s candidacy, and go HERE to learn more about it on this site and be linked to a highlights VIDEO from Rick’s Kickoff Rally held in late April.  It’s very short and shows a leading community activist, an appellate court judge, former fire and police chiefs, and the president of the Real Estate Association making persuasive cases for why Rick Guzman deserves your vote.

And help us step up our game by marching with us in the July 4th parade! The parade steps off at 10:00 a.m. on the 4th, so please plan to be there by 9:00 a.m.  More details here soon.

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Prchal Plugged In

TwoBrosFest16The VIDEO below shows a few minutes of Kevin Andrew Prchal and his band, The Wheeling Birds, playing this year’s Two Brothers Summer Fest, River Edge Park, Aurora, Illinois.  Kevin’s alternative and country sound translated so well to the big stage as he opened for The Lone Bellow and Lord Huron.  Follow the links below to Kevin’s website and his music videos.

Kevin Andrew Prchal and Wheeling Birds

Prchal not plugged in!

This was the 8th and biggest year for the Two Brothers Summer Fest, an event with the tagline “Charity. Music. Beer.”—also, “The Best Beer. The Best Bands. The Best Cause.”—and the two charities benefiting from this year’s proceeds were Illinois Make-a-Wish and our family’s foundation, Emmanuel House.  A supporter of Emmanuel House, Kevin dedicated his “Make Me A Believer” to Rick Guzman, board chair and co-founder, with wife Desiree, of the organization.  Rick is also running for mayor!  More Here and at Guzman for Aurora.

This year Emmanuel House was named one of the “Top 100 social change organizations” in the world.  “Make Me A Believer,” indeed, and Kevin Andrew Prchal and his wonderful music have been big parts of all of this from the very beginning.

 Hear a full, acoustic version of “Make Me A Believer

 Go to Kevin Andrew Prchal’s website.

 Go to a review of Sorrow Sings, Kevin’s second CD, where you’ll also find links to his website and videos.  And now, enjoy Prchal plugged in…

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