Richard Wright's Travel Writings
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
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Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication, Quote
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Once author Richard Wright fled the United States in 1946 to live as an expa-triate in Paris, France, he entered an arena of intellectual thought and humanisticchallenges that transcended the narrow limits of his former American home. As aresult of this intercontinental shift, the writer’s global experiences to come wouldlead, by the time of his death in 1960, to his adopting the title of “Twentieth...
Essays on Black Power (1954)
Richard Wright’s Black Power: Colonial Politics and the Travel Narrative
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Textual Traffic: Colonialism, Modernity and the Economy of the Text by S. Shankar. Re-printed by permission of the State University of New York Press ©2001, StateIn Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (1954), Richard Wright turnshis attention to a dimension of the diasporic black experience that he had notpreviously explored in any great detail. What, Black Power asks, sometimes explicitlyand always implicitly, is the relationship of Richard Wright, this black man of...
Gazing Through the Screen: Richard Wright’s Africa
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James Campbell states in Exiled in Paris that Richard Wright once claimed in hisjournal that he would write the best book on Africa during his time (185). Wrighteventually wrote on Africa, but his travelogue entitled Black Power (1954) is one ofhis most criticized books, especially by Africans who feel betrayed and misrepre-sented. Concurring, John Gruesser contends in “Afro-American Travel Literatureand African Discourse” that the disillusioned and alienated Wright, like William...
“No Street Numbers in Accra”: Richard Wright’s African Cities
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Reprinted from The City in African American Literature. Eds. Yoshinobu Hakutaniand Robert Butler. Madison: Associated U P, 1995. 64–79. Permission by Asso-Two strong images of African life are projected in Richard Wright’s Black Powerbefore he begins explaining why he wanted to travel to his ancestors’ home-land, and both refer to an older, non-urban Africa. He dedicates his book “TO...
Essays on The Color Curtain (1956)
The Color Curtain: Richard Wright’s Journey into Asia
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Partly because of America’s independence and isolation from the other conti-nents, and perhaps, because of its development and evolution from the oldercultures, the mode of writing in America has historically been noted for its timelag. Howellsian realism and the turn-of-the-century naturalism, for example, werein vogue two or three decades later than their counterparts in Europe. Poundianimagism, a modernistic literary movement under the influence of Asian poetics,...
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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It was the kind of meeting that no anthropologist, no sociologist, no political scientist wouldever have dreamed of staging; it was too simple, too elementary, cutting through the outer layersof disparate social and political and cultural facts down to the bare brute residues of humanThe leap from Richard Wright’s six-month assignment in New York as a paidreporter for the Communist Daily Worker, June 8–December 28, 1937, to histhree-week stint in Indonesia at the Bandung Conference as a self-employed writer...
Essays on Pagan Spain (1957)
Richard Wright as Traveler/Ethnographer: The Conundrums of Pagan Spain
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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...
Wright, Hemingway, and the Bullfight: An Aficionado’s View
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Of the three great Latin countries of the Mediterranean, Spain has elicitedless attention from North American writers than France or Italy, but thevolume of work on Spanish subjects is nevertheless very considerable and the qual-ity is high. Stanley T. Williams even asserts that “for American men of letters thefascination of Spain has in some ways exceeded that of other European countries,hardly excepting England itself ” (xx), and his magisterial two-volume work on The...
The Good Women, Bad Women, Prostitutes and Slaves of Pagan Spain: Richard Wright’s Look Beyond the Phallocentric Self
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I wanted to go to Spain, but something was holding me back. The only thing that stood be-tween me and a Spain that beckoned as much as it repelled was a state of mind.Every native feels himself to be more or less a “foreigner” in his “own and proper” place, andthat metaphorical value of the word “foreigner” first leads the citizen to a feeling of discomfortas to his sexual, national, political, professional identity. Next it impels him to identify—spo-...
Essay on “French West Africa” (c. 1959)
“French West Africa”: Behind the Scenes with Richard Wright, the Travel Writer
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By spring of 1959 coinciding with the May 1946 anniversary of his thirteenthyear of exile in Paris, France, Richard Wright had made the word “Africa” afamiliar term of reference in the majority of his long, nonfictional texts and shortessays about his foreign travels during this decade. He especially became interestedin the anti-colonial and post-colonial struggles of the continent’s various blackand brown peoples. Just as he had made the “Negro” in America the major meta-...
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Publication Year: 2012