"Now," James Baldwin wrote in 1951, "the most powerful and celebrated statement we have yet had of what it means to be a Negro in America is unquestionably Richard Wright's Native Son." This to a certain extent still holds true, intensified by recent events which have emphasized the dilemma of the blacks. Indeed, Wright's entire career, as man and writer (he died in 1960), has taken on a special new importance in the light of those recent events.
That is why this new book on Wright, by Professor Edward Margolies, is especially welcome now. It deals with Wright not only as an American author of consequence but also as an eloquent participant in the black man's experience. It is an unusually full book, treating not only Wright's imaginative work but also his non-fiction works. The emerging picture is an unusually full one.
And the book is valuably critical; it is not just a beamish discussion of Wright's merits or one of those purely expository studies which do not evaluate and leave the impression that each book is as good as all the others. On the contrary, Mr. Margolies is aware of Wright's defects and points them out convincingly. But on the other hand he shows Wright's merits and in all ways indicates that he is a novelist who continues to be worth our reading time.
Mr. Margolies explores the non-fiction works before turning to the stories and novels, and in the early parts