Richard Wright and Digital Movements

By Rambsy, Howard, II | Papers on Language & Literature, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Richard Wright and Digital Movements

Rambsy, Howard, II, Papers on Language & Literature

In November 2007, the online bookseller Amazon released the Kindle, an electronic-book (e-book) reader, and sparked publicity for this new device capable of holding the contents of hundreds of books. A few e-book reader devices had preceded the Kindle, but Amazon's device had access to a far larger number of digital books with 88,000 on its launch. Moreover, "The Kindle's real breakthrough," explained Steven Levy in a cover article for Newsweek on Amazon's e-book reader, "springs from a feature that its predecessors never offered: wireless connectivity, via a system called Whispernet." In an assessment of The Kindle in The New York Times, David Pogue predicted that although most readers would prefer "the cost and the simplicity of a paper book, the Kindle is by far the most successful stab yet at taking reading material into the digital age." And in a post on the blog for Oxford University Press, Evan Schnittman noted that along with Amazon's tremendous selling power, the release of the Kindle "represents perhaps the most significant moment in the history of eBooks."

In addition to providing publicity for Amazon's e-book reader, however, the media coverage about the launch of the Kindle prompted and intensified conversations about what some generally referred to as the future of reading. For some, the emergence of new digitized books signaled the emergence of new kinds of readers. The vast bodies of information available on the web and the developments of digital literacy shaped by new media have contributed significantly to innovations to practices of reading. Also, the technologically-influenced changes to practices of reading have certainly had important effects on how students and scholars experience American literature. And while scholars have become more and more active in discussions concerning the interactions between new media, literary art, and evolving reading practices, there has been relatively little scholarship that considers what such technological changes might mean for studying and teaching African American literature.

How might web-based bibliographical work on historically-significant African American authors enhance our approaches to reading and appreciating those writers? What factors account for the lack of innovative digital archives featuring black literary artists? In what ways are online approaches to teaching being used to expose students to African American literature? For those of us interested in Richard Wright, addressing such questions could be imperative. Prevalent technological trends over the last years suggest that we should consider more thoroughly and publicly the future of reading Wright in this increasingly digital world.


Wright scholars, no doubt, owe a debt of gratitude to the late Keneth Kinnamon, a tireless researcher who produced extensive bibliographies annotating an incredible number of materials pertaining to scholarship and general information on Wright. Kinnamon's leading role in compiling entries for A Richard Wright Bibliography: Fifty Years of Criticism and Commentary, 1933-1982 (1988) and Richard Wright: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism and Commentary, 1983-2003 (2005), for instance, are monumental bibliographic undertakings. Taken together, those two works alone contain more than 20,000 annotated Wright-related items, which were gathered from more than fifty countries, including Cuba, Denmark, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, Venezuela, and Zaire to name a few. Amazingly, at least from a modern-day perspective, those expansive bibliographies were largely compiled without the luxuries of internet search engines and databases that now place so much information at our fingertips and on our computer screens. Kinnamon's bibliographies confirm the diverse and long-term interest that citizens the world over have shown in Wright's creative output. Kinnamon's work also reveals the existence of active networks of writers, publishers, teachers, and scholars who concentrated on a major African American author. …

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