restricted access Richard Wright: Books and Writers (review)
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Reviewed by
Michel Fabre. Richard Wright: Books and Writers. Jackson UP of Mississippi, 1990. 312 pp. $37.50.

In his introduction to this history of Richard Wrights' library, Michel Fabre establishes phases of Wright's book purchases as well as phases of his interests. One is struck by the effort to link a book Wright possessed to the writing in which he may have used it; thus, the entry of Lewis Mumford provides a citation in which Wright relates how he derived from The Golden Day the idea for the [End Page 773] use of a clock in the short story "Long Black Song." What a fascinating detail! More than that, though, it is a detail that also underlines the disposition of mind that led Wright to his social pyschological conception of reality; and even more than that, Fabre's conjunction of a title from Wright's personal library and a passage from his unpublished journals gives us insight into motivation for fictional character, tempting us to formulate a way to describe the blend of artistic sensibility (the imagery and characterization) and social knowledge that makes the story so effective. Similarly interesting is the listing of books Wright owned by Gertrude Stein, a record that tells us Wright engaged modernism as a matter of language.

The material in the volume is conveniently organized in alphabetical order, for easy finding, and includes references to purchase date so that one can observe the building of a library as though it were the external record of an intellectual autobiography. None of the material is available elsewhere, except to the extent that Fabre's early article, "Richard Wright's First Hundred Books" (CLAJ, June 1973), remains accessible in research libraries or in Fabre's collection of essays called The World of Richard Wright (Mississippi, 1985).

To complete the presentation of materials documenting Wright's evolving literary sensibility, Fabre appends to his basic listing a selection of thirty-four blurbs, introductions, and book reviews, a bibliography he prepared on "The Negro in Chicago" while employed by the WPA in 1936, some notes he made for an aborted anthology on Black writing, and an earnest set of notes he made from a handbook on play writing. All of these help illustrate the attention this Father of Protest Writing gave to aesthetic issues. For example, in a lecture on Hemingway and Steinbeck delivered in 1940 and a review of E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel published in 1947, Wright discusses the intrusion of an authorial voice in narratives of working class characters and discusses it sympathetically and adeptly. Well, why not? He himself faced a daunting problem of voice in creating Bigger Thomas.

Richard Wright's profoundly creative fiction changed American literature with the first words uttered about Bigger Thomas in 1940. Literary history, however, is another matter. It was not until the 1960s that adventurous scholarship began to create the secondary literature upon which we depend for authentication of literary reputation. But the job was accomplished. Wright is established. Now, a new order of scholarly works is required to sustain Wright as an American master. Michel Fabre contributes significantly to the project.

John M. Reilly
State University of New York at Albany