Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism

Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism

Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism

Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism

Synopsis

Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright began their careers as marginals within marginalized groups, and their desire to live peacefully in unorthodox marriages led them away from America and into permanent exile in France. Still, the obvious differences between them - in class, ethnic and racial origins, and in artistic expression - beg the question: What was there to talk about? This question opens a window onto each writer's meditations on the influence of racial, ethnic, and national origins on the formation of identity in a modern and post-modern world.

Excerpt

If you wish to know who I am, If you wish me to teach you what I know, Cease for the while to be what you are and forget what you know.

Tierno Bokar, the sage of Bandiagara

This study began as an exploration of expatriation through the works of Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright. Initially I chose these two because unlike many American expatriate artists, Stein and Wright remained in exile until their deaths. (They are buried a short walk from each other at Père Lachaise). Additionally, Stein, a Jewish lesbian, and Wright, an African-American, had complex if not agonized relationships to America and to an American identity. and finally, each writer's influence on American literature has been enormously important. Indeed at the close of the twentieth century, it is difficult to imagine American literature without Three Lives and The Making of Americans or Black Boy and Native Son. Among the most important things I would learn from my early research were the ways in which expatriation enabled these social, and in Stein's case literary, outcasts to be Americans in ways that were inaccessible to them back home. As it happened, the expatriation angle became an introduction to their insights on the relationship between the poetics of high modernism and its political implications for American life and art.

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