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Richard Wright's Travel Writings

New Reflections

Virginia Whatley Smith

Publication Year: 2012

Attracted to remote lands by his interest in the postcolonial struggle, Richard Wright (1908-1960) became one of the few African Americans of his time to engage in travel writing. He went to emerging nations not as a sightseer but as a student of their cultures, learning the politics and the processes of social transformation.

When Wright fled from the United States in 1946 to live as an expatriate in Paris, he was exposed to intellectual thoughts and challenges that transcended his social and political education in America. Three events broadened his world view- his introduction to French existentialism, the rise of the Pan-Africanist movement to decolonize Africa, and Indonesia's declaration of independence from colonial rule in 1945. During the 1950s as he traveled to emerging nations his encounters produced four travel narratives-Black Power (1953), The Color Curtain (1956), Pagan Spain (1956), and White Man, Listen! (1957). Upon his death in 1960, he left behind an unfinished book on French West Africa, which exists only in notes, outlines, and a draft.

Written by multinational scholars, this collection of essays exploring Wright's travel writings shows how in his hands the genre of travel writing resisted, adapted, or modified the forms and formats practiced by white authors. Enhanced by nine photographs taken by Wright during his travels, the essays focus on each of Wright's four separate narratives as well as upon his unfinished book and reveal how Wright drew on such non-Western influences as the African American slave narrative and Asian literature of protest and resistance. The essays critique Wright's representation of customs and people and employ a broad range of interpretive modes, including the theories of formalism, feminism, and postmodernism, among others.

Wright's travel books are proved here to be innovative narratives that laid down the roots of such later genres as postcolonial literature, contemporary travel writing, and resistance literature.

Virginia Whatley Smith is an associate professor of English at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Her work has appeared in African American Review, Mississippi Quarterly, and MLA Approaches to Teaching Wright's 'Native Son.'

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-xv

Once author Richard Wright fled the United States in 1946 to live as an expatriate in Paris, France, he entered an arena of intellectual thought and humanistic challenges that transcended the narrow limits of his former American home. As a result of this intercontinental shift, the writer’s global experiences to come would lead, by the time of his death in 1960, to his adopting the title of “Twentieth ...

Essays on Black Power (1954)

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Richard Wright’s Black Power: Colonial Politics and the Travel Narrative

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pp. 3-19

In Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (1954), Richard Wright turns his attention to a dimension of the diasporic black experience that he had not previously explored in any great detail.What, Black Power asks, sometimes explicitly and always implicitly, is the relationship of Richard Wright, this black man of the diaspora, to Africa? Black Power is an account of Wright’s journey to the Gold ...

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Gazing Through the Screen: Richard Wright’s Africa

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pp. 22-40

James Campbell states in Exiled in Paris that Richard Wright once claimed in his journal that he would write the best book on Africa during his time (185).Wright eventually wrote on Africa, but his travelogue entitled Black Power (1954) is one of his most criticized books, especially by Africans who feel betrayed and misrepresented. Concurring, John Gruesser contends in “Afro-American Travel Literature ...

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“No Street Numbers in Accra”: Richard Wright’s African Cities

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pp. 45-60

Two strong images of African life are projected in Richard Wright’s Black Power1 before he begins explaining why he wanted to travel to his ancestors’ homeland, and both refer to an older, non-urban Africa. He dedicates his book “TO THE UNKNOWN AFRICAN. . . who, alone in the forests of West Africa, created a vision of life so simple as to be terrifying, yet a vision that was irreducibly ...

Essays on The Color Curtain (1956)

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The Color Curtain: Richard Wright’s Journey into Asia

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pp. 63-77

Partly because of America’s independence and isolation from the other continents, and perhaps, because of its development and evolution from the older cultures, the mode of writing in America has historically been noted for its time lag. Howellsian realism and the turn-of-the-century naturalism, for example, were in vogue two or three decades later than their counterparts in Europe. Poundian ...

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Richard Wright’s Passage to Indonesia: The Travel Writer/Narrator as Participant/Observer of Anti-Colonial Imperatives in The Color Curtain

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pp. 78-116

The leap from Richard Wright’s six-month assignment in New York as a paid reporter for the Communist Daily Worker, June 8–December 28, 1937, to his three-week stint in Indonesia at the Bandung Conference as a self-employed writer and temporary press reporter, April 10–May 5, 1955, is an eighteen-year period that embraces the multiple, professional guises that he would assume on his way to international ...

Essays on Pagan Spain (1957)

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Richard Wright as Traveler/Ethnographer: The Conundrums of Pagan Spain

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pp. 119-147

Ethnography is moving into areas long occupied by sociology, the novel, or avant-garde culturalI’m inclined to feel that I ought not to work right now on a novel. This does not mean that I’mgiving up writing fiction, but, really, there are so many more exciting and interesting thingshappening now in the world that I feel sort of dodging them if I don’t say something aboutWhen Richard Wright’s meditation on Spanish life and culture was publishedin 1957, everyone—including Wright and his publisher—expected it to...


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pp. 148-156

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Wright, Hemingway, and the Bullfight: An Aficionado’s View

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pp. 157-164

Of the three great Latin countries of the Mediterranean, Spain has elicited less attention from North American writers than France or Italy, but the volume of work on Spanish subjects is nevertheless very considerable and the quality is high. Stanley T. Williams even asserts that “for American men of letters the fascination of Spain has in some ways exceeded that of other European countries, ...

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The Good Women, Bad Women, Prostitutes and Slaves of Pagan Spain: Richard Wright’s Look Beyond the Phallocentric Self

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pp. 165-176

Stephen Butterfield’s idea that autobiography “lives in the two worlds of history and literature, objective fact and subjective awareness,” and that the product of autobiography “asserts that human life has or can be made to have meaning, that our actions count for something worth being remembered, that we are conscious of time, [and] that we not only drift on the current of our circumstances ...

Essay on “French West Africa” (c. 1959)

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“French West Africa”: Behind the Scenes with Richard Wright, the Travel Writer

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pp. 179-214

By spring of 1959 coinciding with the May 1946 anniversary of his thirteenth year of exile in Paris, France, Richard Wright had made the word “Africa” a familiar term of reference in the majority of his long, nonfictional texts and short essays about his foreign travels during this decade. He especially became interested in the anti-colonial and post-colonial struggles of the continent’s various black ...


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pp. 215-218

Works Cited

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pp. 219-227


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pp. 229-230


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pp. 231-237

E-ISBN-13: 9781621036883
E-ISBN-10: 1578069319
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578069316

Publication Year: 2012