The Art of Richard Wright

By Edward Margolies | Go to book overview

1
Life and Works

When Richard Wright died on November 28, 1960, Le Monde in a lengthy obituary attested to his still powerful European reputation. The response in the United States was scarcely comparable -- a few scattered reminiscences followed by a pall of critical silence. Wright had long since been dismissed as a phenomenally successful Negro author of the thirties and forties whose "protest" literature had subsequently become unfashionable. Scarcely any allusion is now made to his literary merit as if by definition one cannot write "sociology" and be aesthetic at the same time.

This is unfortunate because Wright at his best was master of a taut psychological suspense narrative. Even more important, however, are the ways Wright wove his themes of human fear, alienation, guilt, and dread into the overall texture of his work. Some critics may still today stubbornly cling to the notion that Wright was nothing more than a proletarian writer, but it was to these themes that a postwar generation of French writers responded, and not to Wright's Communism -- and it is to these themes that future critics must turn primarily if they wish to re-evaluate Wright's work.

Wright's significance in the history of American letters has been shamefully neglected in the last two decades. The reasons are not altogether clear. Perhaps American critics reacting negatively to the fervor of

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