Black writers have reflected and shaped our cultural heritage. Richard Wright’s works have served as important literary landmarks in our history. Wright was born in Mississipi in 1908 and made his transition in 1960 in Paris. Being a Chicago native, I always like to mention a writer's Chicago connection. When he wrote his very first novel titled "Cesspool," but later renamed, "Lawd Today", he lived in Chicago on 4831 S. Vincennes Avenue. He lived there from 1927-1936. In 2010 that home was designated an historical landmark. Wright's work includes:
Recently, I discovered one of Wright's books called, “Haiku – The Last Poems,” thanks to a special request from my late father’s best friend, Joseph Dean LaRue. In fact, I will pause a moment here to dedicate this post in memory of this voracious reader who was also the “1st Black Assistant Dean of the University of Chicago, docent emeritus of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, could cook a mean pot of gumbo” according to one of his beloved daughter Christine’s endearing facebook posts. He lived until 94 but passed during the pandemic. I'm so thankful to have known him and was honored to try to keep up with his literary appetite. It is a blessing to serve a community that seeks to expand their knowledge base and explore the rich history that we are a part even though up in age.
When I began to read the poetry snippets in "Haiku," I knew I’d found a new literary companion to sink my eye-teeth into. Since each poem Is so short and follows a special 5-7-5 syllable counted pattern it seems each word must be well selected to be able to hold at least 5 times its normal grammatical weight. Somehow because of the condensed nature of these mini-poems, the amount of time they linger in the mind is way out of proportion to its size. Check this one out:
Upon my first read, questions automatically arose in my mind, but seemingly abruptly, the poem finishes leaving the reader to fin for themselves to figure it all out . To fill in the gap, up bubbles the imagination to fill in the gaps. Ahh, the pictures then paint themselves on the canvas of the mind.
I must admit that Richard Wright was not my first choice in author selection of books to read. I allowed the original version of the movie “Native Son” to forever taint my understanding of whatever message the book was trying to convey. I’ve come to know, that it is often the movie version of a book that falls far short from the gems to be gained from the book. An example of this is “ The Color Purple.” I absolutely hated the movie’s depiction of Black men. Sure, there were parts that were interesting, but this for me didn’t outweigh the loss. Plus, it didn't even seem to come close to resembling the book which I read first. I walked away with a net negative balance that was made worse by societal stereotypes that were running on automatic pilot.
Unfortunately, I allowed the original “Native Son” movie which starred Richard Wright himself, be the last and final word on the rest of his work. The lighthearted imagination igniter found in “Haiku” is so powerful, it has even inspired me to write some of my own. I’ve found it a fun exercise to try to condense my thoughts down to the Haiku format and mix that with its traditional theme of nature. There are 817 out of thousands of Haiku hand picked by Wright himself in this book he created in the last years of his life according to the forward written by his daughter, Julia Wright. I also learned that most of his work is housed at Yale University. Isn’t this interesting. It is ironic for a society that depicts Black Men as enemy number one to have its most elite of educational institutions allow placement in its supposedly hallowed halls. The truth is that brilliance is not relegated to any singular ethnicity and that Black people have been gifted with our fair share. For those who wish to see, ours is a bright shining unlimited light of genius. Here’s another from Wright’s “Haiku”:
Summer mountains move
To let a sinking sun pass
To the other side.
What a welcome surprise that Wright’s family is continuing his legacy and has released “The Man Who Lived Underground: A Novel” which just came out in April 2021. A recent Youtube interview, "Richard Wright's 'The Man Who Lived Underground' ” by Library of America with Wright’s daughter and grandson Malcolm Wright amongst other writers was quite informative. The book written in the 1940’s, discusses violence by police and racial injustice. The subject matter couldn't be more timely in its relevance to world events. It has taken 80 years to publish this book since it was reported during the interview that the industry would not touch it. In the introduction of this interview, the sponsor and President and Publisher of Library of America Max Ruden indicated that no publishers would touch the novel though it came after the success of “Native Son.” Of course, just knowing this tidbit piques my interest to want to read it even more. I want to encourage you to listen to the interview in its entirety to hear the first impressions of the manuscript by family members. There’s also an insightful review of this latest novel called, “ The Bleak Prescience of Richard Wright by Imani Perry“ found in The Atlantic.
One of the take-aways from my recent discovery of “Haiku” is to always delve deeper than the media's attention getting headlines and sensation driven portrayals. We are a complex people, and never could a single movie or book define a person. It is also important to take into account the fact that as people gain more information there is always the potential for change of attitudes and understandings. I am so thankful to the community for continuing to evolve and push our business and its staff, and the the owner (me) to higher heights by asking for books to help clarify disjoint or incomplete information.
As always, if you’d like to know more, I encourage you to read for yourself and come to your own conclusions. Video and audio footage are also available to shape understanding. All titles mentioned in this post are available from Afriware Books, Co, a Black-owned bookstore. If you do not find the title on the site, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org