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Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright

The Poetics and Politics of Modernism

M. Lynn Weiss

Publication Year: 1998

After the Second World War Gertrude Stein asked a friend's support in securing a visa for Richard Wright to visit Paris.

"I've got to help him, she said. You see, we are both members of a minority group."

The brief, little-noted friendship of Stein and Wright began in 1945 with a letter. Over the next fifteen months, the two kept up a lively correspondence which culminated in Wright's visit to Paris in May 1946 and ended with Stein's death a few months later.

Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright began their careers as marginals within marginalized groups, and their desire to live peacefully in unorthodox marriages led them away from America and into permanent exile in France. Still the obvious differences between them-in class, ethnic and racial origins, and in artistic expression-beg the question: What was there to talk about? This question opens a window onto each writer's meditations on the influence of racial, ethnic, national origins on the formation of identity in a modern and post-modern world.

The intuitive and intellectual affinities between Stein and Wright are illuminated in several works of non-fiction. Stein's Paris France and Wright's Pagan Spain are meditations on expatriation and creativity. Their so-called homecoming narratives-Stein's Everybody's Autobiography and Wright's Black Power --examine concepts of racial and national identity in a post-modernist world. Respectively in Lectures in America and White Man, Listen! Stein and Wright outline the ways in which the poetics and politics of modernism are inextricably bound.

At the close of the twentieth century the meditations of Stein and Wright on the protean quality of individual identity and its artistic, social, and political expression explore the most prescient and pressing issues of our time and beyond.

M. Lynn Weiss is an assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Washington University.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Over the years, I have benefited from the intelligent, sensitive criticism and encouragement of many people. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of their contributions to my work, and harder still to express my gratitude to them. Gerald Early read the manuscript and shepherded it and me over shaky ground. Michel Fabre read and advised on the Wright sections of the study. Rick Griffiths, a friend indeed, read, edited, added, posed nagging questions, and offered...

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pp. xi-xiii

This study began as an exploration of expatriation through the works of Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright. Initially I chose these two because unlike many American expatriate artists, Stein and Wright remained in exile until their deaths. (They are buried a short walk from each other at Père Lachaise). Additionally, Stein, a Jewish lesbian, and Wright, an African-American, had complex if not agonized relationships...

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1 Two Lives: Modernism and the Stein/Wright Connection

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pp. 1-26

The relationship between Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright is generally noted, but its implications are rarely explored. In the context of American literary history where Stein's friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder or Wright's with James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison are central, the invisibility of the Stein/Wright relationship is suggestive. In most expatriate studies Stein and Wright...

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2 Innocents Abroad: Gertrude Stein's Paris France and Richard Wright's Pagan Spain

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pp. 27-50

Paris France and Pagan Spain extend our understanding of expatriation as a way for American artists to achieve an aesthetic, emotional, and social distance from their native land. These two texts invite us to think about the other side of that distance, Europe in this case, as more than merely a vacuous "euro-world" visible only to the extent that it remains clichéd. To ignore the destination of these narratives...

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3 American Odyssey: Richard Wright's Black Power and Gertrude Stein's Everybody's Autobiography

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pp. 51-96

This observation articulates one of the most important features of the modernist sensibility for Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright in both poetics and politics. Stein and Wright were, given the facts of American life, in a better position than most to experience "the variability and indeterminacy of human identity" (North 67). Even though there is abundant evidence for this in their canonical works, the homecoming...

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4 Lecture Notes: Gertrude Stein's Lectures in America and Richard Wright's White Man, Listen!

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pp. 97-127

In a letter dated October 29, 1945, Richard Wright urged Gertrude Stein to return to the States for a lecture tour. The moment was ideal; the postwar period had opened people's minds, and they needed new ideas: "The nation feels guilty right now about the Negro and if you came and hammered it home while they feel that way, why, they would sit back and take notice. I have in mind . . . something like...

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pp. 129-137

In their explorations of place and displacement, of home and origins, of poetics and politics, Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright call for new narratives. In Paris France, Everybody's Autobiography, and Lectures in America, Gertrude Stein foregrounds her most important contributions to American modernism and more. Stein's emphasis on radical subjectivity and her experiments with temporal representation...

Works Cited

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pp. 139-144


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pp. 145-150

E-ISBN-13: 9781604737721
E-ISBN-10: 1578061008
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578061006

Page Count: 150
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 42329858
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright