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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Wright’

Visible Man

September 4, 2014 | by

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Richard Wright in a 1946 photograph by Carl Van Vechten.

Richard Wright was born on this day in 1908; he wrote Native Son and Black Boyamong dozens of other books, and his often controversial work helped to change race relations in the twentieth century. Wright hailed from North Carolina and in 1946 moved to Paris, where he befriended Sartre, Camus, and a number of expatriate writers, including Max Steele, one of The Paris Review’s founding editors. In our fiftieth anniversary issue, from 2003, the late Steele wrote “Richard Wright: The Visible Man,” a remembrance. Below is an excerpt from the essay.

I do not remember what month I saw him for the last time. He was strolling slowly in the light rain toward his flat on Monsieur Le Prince. He, in his double-breasted English raincoat and new beret, was walking upstream against the French with their umbrellas rushing down from the Comedie Française toward the Metro at Odéon.

I remember more vividly the first time I had met him at the Monaco (quite casually, even though I had arrived with a letter of introduction to him from our editor at Harper’s). When he learned I was from Chapel Hill he assumed immediately that I knew Paul Green, with whom he had written the play Native Son. He said, “The sleepiest man I ever saw.” He laughed and talked and laughed that laugh which he later admitted was his first line of defense, though it felt that afternoon like offense. He claimed that Green would go to sleep when they were writing dialogue for the most exciting moments in the play. “I’d say a line and look over and there Paul would be asleep.”

Five years later when I was again in Chapel Hill, teaching, I met Hugh Wilson, a cousin of Paul Green’s, who told me how exciting and dangerous those weeks were when Wright was in town working with Green on the play. “Of course he couldn’t stay at the Carolina Inn and there was no other place, so we got him a room down on Cameron Avenue in that big Victorian house behind those two giant magnolias. When the Ku Klux got wind he was there in a white neighborhood, they put out word they were going to kill him. Wright never knew that. Night after night Paul and I walked shotgun on that block. Paul would go up Ransom and I’d go down Cameron for a block or so and then we’d walk back and stand on the corner awhile, then patrol again. All night. I don’t know how Paul could write the next day. I didn’t care for Native Son. But Black Boy, that was one helluva book!” We admitted it had changed Wilson’s attitude and mine.

I heard later that Ellen [Wright’s wife] had placed a copy of Black Boy on Wright’s chest before the coffin was closed.

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Watch Richard Wright Act in Native Son

July 15, 2013 | by

In 1948, Richard Wright starred in this screen test for the film adaptation of his classic 1940 novel, Native Son. Says Studio 360’s Amanda Aronczyk, “if that sounds like a bad idea, that’s because it was”—not least because the non-actor was twice as old as twenty-year-old Bigger Thomas—but this clip remains a fascinating piece of literary and cinematic history.

 

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North American Books I Read as a Child in Castro’s Cuba

October 19, 2011 | by

Havana, Cuba. Photograph by Jordi Martorell.

In the spring of 2007, I was invited to a dinner organized by The Paris Review in honor of Norman Mailer. The novelist had just published what would be his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, and would have a conversation with E. L. Doctorow. That evening, when Mailer entered the room, with his very distinctive mien—that of a rather solid and stout man who, because of his age, used two canes—I was deeply moved. I told him—what else do you say in those circumstances?—how much I admired his books and that I started reading them when I was very young, many years ago.

A few days later I told a friend about this experience. “But, how?” he acted surprised, “Did you read Norman Mailer in Cuba?” And added, “Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the banned North American authors on the island?”

My friend had imagined, perhaps for a good reason, that you couldn’t find American literature in Cuba, that it was banned because both countries were at more or less declared war, an openly proclaimed enmity. I patiently explained to him that nothing like this ever happened. Mailer’s books and those of many other North American authors were not censured in Cuba; in fact, they were widely sold. You could find them in every library; they could be read by everyone. Read More »

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Ishmael Reed on ‘Juice!’

September 13, 2011 | by

Ishmael Reed © Terence Byrnes.

Seventy-three-year-old Ishmael Reed has been a major figure in American letters for more than four decades. In April, Dalkey Archive published Juice!, Reed’s first novel in more than fifteen years. Juice! tells the story of a struggling African American cartoonist whose personal and professional life is disrupted by the media frenzy surrounding the O. J. Simpson murder trial. Earlier this summer, Reed, who is based in Oakland, California, responded to some of my questions about his latest work.

Juice! is your first novel since 1993. What inspired you to write another novel after all these years?

I began this one as soon as I heard about the murders. I was vacationing in Hawaii, and the murders ruined my vacation. The media went berserk over the murder of Nicole Simpson, the kind of ideal white woman—a Rhine maiden—one finds in Nazi art and propaganda, murdered allegedly by a black beast. It was a story that reached into the viscera of the American unconscious, recalling the old Confederate art of the black boogeyman as an incubus squatting on top of a sleeping, half-clad white woman. It was also an example of collective blame. All black men became O. J. The murders ignited a kind of hysteria.

Juice! does not have a conventional structure. The novel incorporates courtroom documents, television transcripts, and pieces of visual art. It also plays around quite a bit with time. What gave rise to the novel’s peculiar shape?

I try to experiment. Writing a conventional novel would be boring for me. In this novel, I added cartoons. Cartoons were probably my introduction to storytelling as a child, because on Sundays we got The Chattanooga Times, and I’d read the funnies. A publisher wanted to publish Juice! but decided that the cartoons weren’t up to par. So, at the age of seventy, I studied at the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco, and the cartoons improved so much that I now do political cartoons for The San Francisco Chronicle’s blog, City Brights.Read More »

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