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  • Richard Wright: A Documented Chronology, 1908–1960 by Toru Kiuchi, Yoshinobu Hakutani
  • Robert J. Butler
Toru Kiuchi and Yoshinobu Hakutani. Richard Wright: A Documented Chronology, 1908–1960. Jefferson: McFarland, 2014. 456 pp. $75.00.

This is an extremely ambitious and invaluable study that is comparable in scope to Jay Leyda’s massive two-volume documentary study of Herman Melville’s life in The Melville Log. Like Leyda, Hakutani and Kiuchi take as their task a well-documented, finely detailed account of the life of a major American writer from birth to death, focusing on everything from the mundane details of daily life to careful tracings of the composition of major works.

The product of many years of sustained study, the book is an important contribution to Wright studies because its strict chronological organization enables readers to gain easy access to important information that often gets obscured by thematically [End Page 215] organized works. This is especially true when tracing Wright’s voluminous correspondence with fellow novelists Ralph Ellison and James T. Farrell as well as with his agent Paul Reynolds, and editors Edward Aswell and William Tarq. And we get a very clear picture of Wright’s gradual withdrawal from the Communist Party because each phase of this protracted process is carefully detailed as it developed over several years.

Even more important, Hakautani and Kiuchi provide us with new information about Wright’s life and work because they draw heavily from previously unpublished materials contained in a wide variety of archives housed in libraries at Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Howard. In addition, they were able to examine the extremely rich resources in the Schomburg Collection and the private holdings of Michel Fabre, Wright’s most distinguished biographer.

Ellison’s long correspondence with Wright, which is found in the Beinecke Library at Yale, might cause scholars to revise the standard view that their friendship ended with the publication of Invisible Man in 1952. As Hakutani and Kiuchi clearly document, the two continued to be friends who respected each other’s work for most of Wright’s exile in Europe. Wright’s correspondence with James T. Farrell, which began in the late 1930s, and continued into the late 1950s, will also prompt scholars to take a closer look at this important but lightly examined literary relationship.

Fabre’s private collection is especially valuable for illuminating Wright’s later years that have never been properly understood. A long series of letters between Wright, Reynolds, and John Fisher tell an interesting story of how Wright was forced to continually revise The Outsider, greatly frustrating Wright and probably damaging the novel. And Fabre’s extensive collection of letters between Wright and his translator, Margrit de Sablonière, dramatically reveal how he was trying desperately in his last years of failing health to complete a number of significant projects such as A Father’s Law and “Island of Hallucination.” As he disclosed to her in a letter of August 2, 1960, he had a “head full of wild ideas” that enabled him to begin work on a number of promising books. But his long battle with amoebic dysentery, which took his life a few months later, made it impossible for him to bring much of this work to completion.

The book thus raises some interesting questions about why Wright’s unfinished manuscripts have received little scholarly study. Black Hope, a novel that Wright almost completed in the early 1940s and that he continued to work on for many years thereafter, has never received the attention that it deserves. “Island of Hallucination,” intended as a sequel to The Long Dream that Wright worked on in his final years, has been privately read but has never been carefully examined in published form. And the long novel of which “The Man Who Lived Underground” was but a small part, remains in a kind of scholarly limbo.

Another of the book’s strengths is the way it is organized in two major sections, focusing on Wright’s American and European experiences, and then subdivided into eighteen parts that cover distinct phases of his life. Each of these sections is prefaced with a detailed biographical narrative that collectively put...


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pp. 215-217
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