Critical Insights: Richard Wright

"With the publication of his best-selling novel Native Son, Richard Wright (1908–60), who had until then worked for the Chicago post office after he’d moved north and then for the Federal Writers’ Project, made his name as one of the most influential African American writers of the 20th century. In 1945, the first half of his autobiography, Black Boy, was published. Essays, short stories, plays, a radio play, and a film completed his oeuvre before his untimely death at 53. In this volume, edited by Drake (writing, Scripps Coll., CA), nine literary scholars present 12 perceptive essays that take a close look at the biographical, sociopolitical, and historical contexts informing Wright’s work, offering a keen, critical examination of some of his key works. Drake explores “The Meaning of Rape” in Native Son, while Beth Bennett analyzes the film adaptation. Other contributors explore Wright’s book Uncle Tom’s Children, his short story “Man of All Work,” and his novel A Father’s Law. VERDICT High school and college students will get a strong sense of Wright’s life, motivations, and creative output. Readers new to the author, as well as devotees, will take away valuable insights." – Library Journal

"Under the editorship of Kimberly Drake, Associate Professor and Chair of the Writing and Rhetoric Major at Scripps College, this volume in the Critical Insights series provides users with an understanding of important American author Richard Wright. The volume starts with two chapters by Drake that discuss critical views of Wright’s work and his early life and work. The next section, Critical Contexts, contains four essays and is arranged chronologically. One essay by Robert C. Evans examines a 1944 piece that explains Wright’s connection with the Communist Party starting in 1933 and how his opinion of the party and communism changed over time. Other chapters in this section are: “The Meaning of Rape in Richard Wright’s Native Son”; “Richard Wright’s Readers”; and “Heidegger and The Outsider, Savage Holiday, and The Long Dream.” This last chapter deals with Wright’s efforts to translate Sartre’s French existentialism into his understanding of black existentialism. The Critical Readings section, also arranged chronologically, begins with an analysis of Wright’s 1938 Uncle Tom’s Children in light of literary naturalism, followed by chapters that examine Native Son as a protest novel and Black Boy in terms of black consciousness, artistic expression, and social justice. The last three chapters in this section examine Wright’s career after his move to Paris, a point at which many critics consider his career to have been in decline. All chapters include a works cited section. The remainder of the book is divided into a Resources section that includes a chronology of Wright’s life, a list of his works, a bibliography, further reading suggestions, information about the editor and contributors, and an index. Recommended for academic libraries." – ARBA