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The Many Influences of Richard Wright:
An Interview with Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Fenton Johnson’s A Wild Plaint offers new perspectives on Johnson’s early creative writing and “post-bellum, pre-Harlem” literature more generally. The fictional work, submitted as nonfiction to publisher Doubleday, Page & Co. in 1909, engages with The Souls of Black Folk and in its intentional subversion of genre offers a compelling precursor to The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man.

Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr. is Distinguished Professor emeritus of English and African World Studies at Dillard University in New Orleans. A literary scholar, editor, and writer whose publications include The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery, The China Lectures: African American Critical and Literary Issues, Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry, The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (with Robert J. Butler), and The Cambridge History of African American Literature (with Maryemma Graham), Ward has been recognized internationally as one of the leading experts on Richard Wright. His 1993 Introduction to Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy (1945), is an important guide for the understanding of the book and its author as well. More important, Ward is a devoted intellectual who has challenged numerous students at home and abroad through academic learning and research, critical thinking, and scholarly writing. This interview was conducted by e-mail from December 22, 2015 to January 31, 2016.

John Zheng:

Dr. Ward, you are a distinguished Richard Wright scholar. I want to begin by asking, what drew you to Richard Wright? What drove you to choose him as a principal subject for research?

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.:

Living most of my youth in Mississippi and reading Uncle Tom’s Children when I was an undergraduate at Tougaloo College drew me to Wright. When I did my doctoral work at the University of Virginia, I chose to write my dissertation on “Richard Wright and His American Critics, 1938-1960.” My concentration was literary theory and criticism, so it seemed reasonable to apply what I learned about the hidden dimensions of literary study in examining how Wright’s reputation emerged.

JZ:

Which other literary influences have there been?

JWW:

We are influenced by everything that we read. It is difficult for me to account for all of the influences on my thought and efforts to write over a period of more than fifty years. Some of my early writings were influenced by Carl Sandburg, T. S. Eliot, and James Baldwin. Kenneth Burke, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Margaret Walker, Tom Dent, Bakhtin, William Faulkner, Kalamu ya Salaam, Shakespeare and English Renaissance writers, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Ralph Ellison have also shaped my thinking about literature and life and purpose.

JZ:

In what way did Wright’s works catch your attention?

JWW:

Wright’s use of literacy, of language to communicate his vision, was very attractive. The more I study Wright, the more fascinated I become with how he did things with words.

JZ:

Can you be more specific about Wright’s use of language to communicate his vision?

JWW:

Wright never earned a college degree, but his ability to write effectively is superior. He obviously made a strong investment in using the basic ability to read [End Page 17] and write as a means of acquiring knowledge about the world and about himself. Wright used his interest in how words might trigger emotions and ideas along with his early intuition about human psychology to engage his readers. I have not yet resolved the ambiguity of the character Bigger Thomas’s statement “What I killed for, I am.” Eugene E. Miller’s Voice of a Native Son (1990) is one of the best explorations of Wright’s poetics, but more research on Wright’s diction and rhetorical choices in fiction and nonfiction can be done. Wright mixed narration or storytelling with polemics or cultural critiques in such works as Native Son, The Outsider, and The Long Dream. We must notice how his choices frustrate our assumptions about how reality should be represented. Wright certainly understood mimesis quite well, the functions of images and narrative descriptions to achieve multiple purposes. Consider his achievement in the underappreciated novel Lawd Today!, his borrowing of patterns from James Joyce and his use of techniques we associate with ethnography. We should be aware that in order to communicate a complex vision of how the world functions. Wright chose to combine the language of folk psychology with a range of literary tropes and modes of philosophical, economic, and sociological argument. Like the truly great writers in world literature, Richard Wright used language to make his messages clear to people who had little formal education as well as to those who had advanced or terminal degrees.

JZ:

Yes, I’d agree with you that Wright possessed a superior writing ability. Is it at all possible that Wright’s ability to write, his gift for storytelling, also shows the influence of the black church?

JWW:

I suspect that turns of phrase, pause and intonation, imagery, repetition, and so forth that we connect with African American preaching styles did have some indirect impact on Wright’s eloquence. The black church, however, is not exactly a monolith, and many different styles of preaching might have influenced Wright. Obviously, Wright combined and recombined elements from the whole spectrum of how black and nonblack people spoke. Black preaching is but one point on that spectrum.

JZ:

How did Wright’s humanity—his presence as a human being—interest you most?

JWW:

The key word is “affinity.” Wright’s spirit and determination has long been of interest to me. Long ago I recognized a few parallels between our life experiences. The shock of recognition I had upon reading Black Boy in my youth created a powerful affinity between Richard Wright and me. I recognized that we shared, despite the thirty-five years that separated us, similar values and perspectives about the dynamics of good and evil and their impact upon the lives of human beings. We shared a hunger for knowing that can never be completely satisfied. Our paths as adults took quite different directions. Wright invested much of his life in trying to speak a truth about his world, in seeking out receptive ears for his words and ideas, and in shaking people out of complacency. I have made a similar investment. I think our curiosity about a writer’s job of deciding for whom he or she writes secures our “kinship.” Dealing with the full range of his writings for many years has enabled me to discover much about his humanity, his agony and his humanism. And my own.

JZ:

Hunger in Black Boy contains both literal and metaphorical meanings. One means starvation, and the other yearning for knowledge. How did Wright satisfy that second hunger?

JWW:

Wright satisfied the second hunger by reading extensively and by discussing ideas with people who were experts on various subjects.

JZ:

Can you talk a bit about your writing on Wright’s American Hunger? [End Page 18]

JWW:

I wrote a piece on American Hunger when it was first published for the Virginia Quarterly Review and tried to account for how pervasive hunger was throughout his life, how the hunger of the spirit is implacable. The concept of hunger enabled Wright to figuratively represent his kinship with all the hungry, suffering peoples of the world. I also gave notice to the fact that American Hunger wasn’t a newly discovered manuscript. It was the portion of the “American Hunger” typescript that was not published in 1945 under the title Black Boy. Unused parts of “American Hunger” had been published in the Atlantic Monthly (1944), the anthology Cross Section 1945, and the September 1945 issue of Mademoiselle. Only sixteen pages of American Hunger had not been in print prior to 1977, but its publication as a book forced us to think differently about Wright and autobiography.

JZ:

As the continuation of Wright’s autobiography, what’s the importance of this book in comparison to Black Boy? Or if there’s a difference between the two books, what is it?

JWW:

The difference is that Black Boy is about the American South as a region and American Hunger is mainly about Chicago as an urban environment. The importance of the book is its revealing that originally, Wright wanted to portray his childhood and young adulthood in parts of the United States where the ethics of living Jim Crow had features that were not necessarily disconnected. Black Boy confirmed what many liberal white Northerners wished to believe about the horrors of the South; American Hunger exposed that the Midwest possessed a different kind and degree of horror. It is important to note that in the 1991 Library of America edition of Black Boy (American Hunger), Black Boy is retitled “Part I: Southern Night”; American Hunger, “Part II: The Horror and the Glory.”

JZ:

As an autobiographical novel, Black Boy (American Hunger) must have some parts that are creative rather than authentic. What would be your advice to readers or researchers, if authenticity is a concern?

JWW:

I would advise them to remember that truth is not an absolute, but rather a tentative conclusion about the nature of things, and the conclusion is subject to those limits suggested by Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty. If all the propositions and claims in Black Boy cannot be verified, that condition is not a warrant for claiming the autobiography lacks authenticity. It is a warrant for recognizing that authenticity comes in as many varieties as validity. I do believe it is imprecise to call Black Boy an autobiographical novel. It is, if we still care as I do about the importance of genres, an autobiography that adapts many features that we associate with novels. I think the contemporary penchant for classifying all prose works that show evidence of imagination as novels is an unfortunate signal of decline in our ability to be discriminating.

JZ:

Of course, Wright had a deft focus on alienation. How did he exploit outsidedness in Black Boy?

JWW:

By drawing attention again and again to how he was different from members of his family, his childhood friends and fellow students, the people with whom he worked. Wright portrays himself as the odd person with a radical will to think independently and critically.

JZ:

Are there similarities, would you say, between this and his handling of the theme of alienation in his life at home and abroad?

JWW:

Yes, in a fashion similar to the one depicted in Black Boy—in his life from birth to his choosing exile in France, Wright was adamant about being his own kind of black person, his own kind of Communist, his own kind of American writer. He didn’t always succeed in remaining outside the cages of identity, but he tried [End Page 19] hard to prevent his being identified as a number or as a subaltern locked in a prison of class and caste and race. During the thirteen years of his life in France, Wright used his own ideas about Existentialism to foreground outsidedness; he also used his political beliefs as reasons to travel and write about Africa, Spain, and a small portion of Asia. Until his death in 1960, Wright tried to use the social capital of being the outsider to his best advantage.

JZ:

You mentioned in your speech delivered at the 2012 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration that Wright’s unpublished essay, “Memories of My Grandmother,” is as important for understanding Wright’s storytelling imagination as is his essay “How ‘Bigger’ Was Born” for understanding the complexity of Native Son. I think readers would like to know more about its importance. Can you elaborate?

JWW:

Reading “Memories of My Grandmother” is crucial for understanding what Wright thought about the creative operations of the human mind; why he thought surrealism was a crucial stage in creative actions; why, from keen observation of his grandmother’s total immersion in the beliefs that constituted Seventh-Day Adventism, he had to create a world (the locus of his thinking) in which he could distance himself from how religion as such could be a disabling force in one’s life. Wright had some very smart things to say about human psychology, especially regarding Freud’s thinking about the importance of dreams, and about the blues and its ability to lift a person who knew how to listen to remarkable heights of vivid perception. “Memories of My Grandmother” is a rich, dense essay that resists easy summary. For that reason, I recommend that people order a photocopy of it from the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale and read it again and again. Wright’s meditation on cognition is perhaps the chief document we should use to ask good questions about all of his writings.

JZ:

Wright’s special presence in your research, then, is abundantly clear, but how has he influenced your attitudes toward race, culture, and society?

JWW:

I developed attitudes about race, black cultures, and American society well in advance of reading Wright. My attitudes were forged in lived experiences, not in reading. He has influenced me most in how I decide to shape questions about institutions and experiences. Like Wright, I refuse to live in a box marked “this is what African Americans are supposed to be interested in.”

JZ:

Your research in Wright has been helpful to your contemporaries and younger scholars. Can you give a detailed description of your research?

JWW:

My early research was conducted between 1974 and 1978. I read all of Wright’s works published up to that time, all of the early critical studies of his work. I took notes on what to look for from Constance Webb’s wonderfully subjective biography of Wright. I did a considerable amount of reading of all the critical and popular responses to his works in newspapers at the Library of Congress; read the Harper and Brothers files at Princeton’s Firestone Library to gain insights about his relationship with editors and publishers. In New York, I did work with Wright materials at the Butler Library at Columbia University and the materials in the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library. Although Yale University acquired the Richard Wright Papers before I completed my dissertation, it was not possible for me to inspect them, despite the intervention of George Kent on my behalf. Charles T. Davis was working with Michel Fabre on the papers, and he was of the opinion that a graduate student had to “prove himself” (that is, earn a Ph.D.) before he was qualified to examine Wright’s papers. I had many talks with Margaret Walker about Wright, and I conducted an informal interview with Theodore Ward about his association with Wright. I read The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse quite carefully, and I did have a conversation with Cruse about Wright’s [End Page 20] nationalism and Marxism. After earning my doctorate at the University of Virginia in 1978, I continued to read everything I could about Wright. It was necessary to expose my students at Tougaloo College to continuing developments in critical discussions when I taught the Richard Wright course. The first International Symposium on Richard Wright at the University of Mississippi, November 21-23, 1985, was a unique opportunity; I met dozens of Wright scholars there and established some correspondence with a few of them. The symposium, which was the brainchild of Professor Maryemma Graham, led to my collaborating with her to establish the Richard Wright Circle and to co-edit the Richard Wright Newsletter. Our efforts to promote sustained study of Wright in universities as well as in public schools required ongoing research in many disciplines that are not strictly literary. In the 1990s, I became familiar with hypertext. I spent a week at Brown University, learning directly from George P. Landow how I might use the convergence of critical theory and technology to construct a website on selected works by Wright. Unfortunately, Tougaloo College did not have the computer hardware I needed to maintain and expand the website I created at Brown. Interdisciplinary research was very important, as I worked with Robert Butler to compile The Richard Wright Encyclopedia. For me, doing research on Wright and encouraging others to discover “facts” about his life and works is as natural as breathing. The bulk of my research has not been reduced to print, because I used it in teaching and for lectures that were a part of public humanities programming. I chose to avoid some of the limitations of academic publishing for the sake of having more freedom to broadcast my ideas to a nonacademic audience. And most of my work was done the old-fashioned way, without benefit of computers.

At present, my research on Wright moves very slowly. Since my retirement in 2012, I have limited access to online academic databases. I am not always up-to-date about new work in Wright studies. And my research for the book I want to write about Wright is very, very slow. The book I have in mind requires my reading much of what Wright read as preparation for writing.

JZ:

Yes, the interdisciplinary thread is crucial to understanding Richard Wright. Can you talk about your most unforgettable experience during your studies?

JWW:

My most unforgettable experience was spending two weeks in 2004 at the Beinecke Library at Yale and reading Wright’s typescripts and learning to decipher his penmanship. Touching pages that had once been touched by Wright was an absolutely unforgettable emotional experience.

JZ:

I had the same feeling when I was examining Wright’s haiku manuscript at Yale. Can you talk a little more about your research in Wright?

JWW:

My research on Wright is concentrated on matters of American and African American social history. I am interested in how literature might be a situated reaction to both literary forms and nonliterary events. My work pertains mainly to African American literary history. I am interested in Wright’s thesis-driven narratives or stories as instances of continuity in a black tradition of fiction-making, one that is indebted to what Wright called the forms of things unknown. Wright was certainly aware of modernist techniques, but I feel he was more concerned with themes than with narrative innovations. I try to discover why Wright remained relatively faithful to the propositions in his “Blueprint for Negro Writing” in his novels, rather than investing great energy in experimenting with a different range of aesthetic possibilities. My research is related to problems associated with literary and cultural interpretation.

JZ:

What kind of distinctive voice did Wright bring to fiction or, broadly speaking, to world literature? [End Page 21]

JWW:

Angry, bold, critical, hard-boiled, hurtful, uncompromising, violent—I think of adjectives that might be used or were used by reviewers to characterize what distinguished Wright’s voice in fiction and nonfiction from the voices employed by many of his contemporaries. Wright was measured racially. The mistake was to give insufficient attention to his art, to how he did things with words. How he depicted situations and made arguments brought sharp perspectives on race relations, victimization, and oppression into view. He upset expectations that a Negro writer ought to conform to the ethics of Jim Crow. He did not engage in minstrelsy. He did not wear the mask in most instances. The “sound” of his voice was iconoclastic. Had people known in the early twentieth century what we know now about the history of African American creative expressions, they might have been less surprised that Wright sounded angry and combative. He was measuring aspects of essential disharmony in the United States in language that was at once symbolic and unflattering. How Wright passed judgment on the nation of his birth was less a matter of protest than it was a matter of indictment, a matter of providing a mirror that forced our nation to behold its vulgarity in conversation with its nobility.

JZ:

Wright did not wear the mask in most instances, so he was not invisible. Could you give an example of his work or speech?

JWW:

The examples are distributed throughout his works, particularly in such essays as “Blueprint for Negro Writing,” “How Bigger Was Born,” and “Memories of My Grandmother” as well as in his introductions to 12 Million Black Voices, Black Power, The Color Curtain, and White Man, Listen! Wright was self-consciously visible in explaining his sources and his objectives.

JZ:

Would you say something about the recent literary criticism on Richard Wright?

JWW:

Criticism and general commentary regarding Wright continues to appear and that is a good sign. We do need to have a broader or more diverse distribution in the criticism. We have a surplus of articles on Native Son, for example, and too few examinations of Pagan Spain, The Color Curtain, Eight Men, The Outsider, Savage Holiday, and The Long Dream. William J. Maxwell’s F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature (2015) does compel us to take a fresh look at how surveillance had a great impact on Wright. Jeff Allred’s chapter on 12 Million Black Voices in his study American Modernism and Depression Documentary (2010) whets our appetite for examining Wright’s photography in greater depth. Ayesha K. Hardison’s excellent discussion of the unpublished novel “Black Hope” in Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature (2014) demonstrates why we ought to spend more time in the Wright Papers at Yale and discover more about Wright’s interest in film and in writing plays. Trying to keep up with books, journal articles, and casual references to Wright is virtually a mission impossible. In March 2016, we saw the publication of Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright and the Bandung Conference (Duke UP) by Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher. This important new book invites us to reconsider The Color Curtain and the 1955 Bandung Conference, Wright’s presence in cross-cultural settings, the Cold War, and its political aftermath. And Richard Wright Writing America at Home and from Abroad (UP of Mississippi, 2016), edited by Virginia Whatley Smith, urges us to give attention to some of Wright’s underappreciated works. The recent criticism assures me that Wright’s legacy has lost none of its contemporary relevance.

JZ:

Any suggestions about reading or research on the unfinished A Father’s Law?

JWW:

In my review of the novel (African American Review 43.2-3 [2009]: 519-21), I suggested Wright focused heavily on how ancient prejudices, biological anxieties, and social mores complicate efforts to act morally. I think reading John Rawls’s [End Page 22] A Theory of Justice (Harvard UP, 1971) can help us to bring the unfinished aspects of the novel to aesthetic closure. What demands research is Wright’s interest in Roman Catholicism, disease as metaphor, and ideas that may be derived from the Old Testament and Nietzsche’s notion that morality is a disease. What did Wright read in preparation for writing this novel? What were Wright’s motives for staking out new territory for his fiction as he recycled the primal theme of father and son?

Contemporary readers should learn from the study of all of Wright’s works how to ask questions that are not trivial. What we ultimately arrive at knowing from Wright and from all writers who strive to be honest is that the human mind does have the possibility of using reason and imagination to expand and refine perceptions of a world that is constantly changing.

JZ:

What do you think young scholars should focus on in the study of Wright?

JWW:

I urge young scholars to focus on Wright’s mind, his innate intelligence, his defiance and willpower, his always expanding interest in mankind’s existence, his analyses of phenomena and experiments in many genres. Many of Wright’s observations, of course, are time-bound and have more historical than topical importance; his primal questions are timeless. Thus I urge them to scrutinize primary sources—the published works and the unpublished materials in the Wright Papers at Yale. Archival scholarship is ultimately of greater importance than reading commentary on Wright. Secondary sources and theories do have to be used as guides for asking questions, identifying references in Wright’s works, and contextualizing whatever we find in his works. But the main focus ought to be on what Wright wrote.

JZ:

With the main focus on what Wright wrote, young scholars can produce genuine analytical essays that present their own critical thinking or that avoid echoing the views of others.

JWW:

Yes. Young scholars should generate their own ideas first, do some research about the historical moment during which Wright and his peers wrote, and then measure their ideas against the thinking of previous critics.

JZ:

In your China Lectures, you point out that theories “tend to be arbitrary, quite expressive of taste and private interests, and comfortable with the playing of games” and they “resemble ideological costumes” (1). Since you have been teaching in China for six years now, what have you done to help the scholars and students there to understand about the use of theory in their study of Wright or of African American literature?

JWW:

I have done two things to readjust thinking among Chinese students and some colleagues, especially those at Central China Normal University. During three of the six years, I have conducted an intensive seminar on research and writing for M.A. and Ph.D. students, which focuses on methodology and preparing manuscripts that use MLA documentation. I have individual and often lengthy conferences with the students about their proposed theses and dissertations, and one of the first things we have to discuss is whether they really understand the theory they have chosen. All the CCNU students are obligated to use one theory or another that their supervisors believe is trendy or dominant in American and European literary studies. I anticipate that when I teach in China this year, students might be raving about the crisis of deconstruction. It is often the case that the students have vague, misleading notions about how theory is used in the West and why they should use it with caution. For example, a student wanted to use Foucault’s heterotopia (Des espaces autres) to discuss some works by William Faulkner. When I asked if the student could explain how Foucault’s ideas were related to Henri Lefebvre’s theorizing about urban space and Michel de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life as well [End Page 23] as Faulkner’s ideas about history, the student was totally baffled. He had minimal knowledge of the history of the American South. We agreed to read Foucault together so that I could explain why it was no easy matter to just grab a theory and make a writer’s works fit the theory. I had similar conversations with all the seminar students. The conversations with students who wanted to use feminist or post-colonial theory to examine an African American author required me to make long explanations about significant differences among American ethnic cultures, about why television and Internet images of the United States are not reliable guides for understanding the cultural nuances that theory minimizes. Eventually they began to understand that as far as theory was concerned, they should not be machines without thought. They must read Wright or any other writer within historical contexts first and then decide which theory might be appropriate.

My second effort addressed our colleagues. In November 2014, I persuaded those who had profound interests in black literature and culture to work together under the umbrella of what I called the African American Research Network (AARN) to exchange ideas about research topics, pedagogy, methods and theory. As you know, I frequently send information to AARN members, and I do have productive email exchanges with some of the scholars. I think the idea that Chinese scholars need not be enslaved to the winds and whims of theory is very slowly beginning to take root. Nevertheless, I know that many years of work will be required to convince our Chinese colleagues that Western theories should be looked at with some skepticism.

JZ:

How does what you say in this instance comport with reading and researching Wright in the twenty-first century? What would mark itself as a continuing value?

JWW:

I locate the continuing value in our continuing to ask questions about world events, people in many parts of the world, and ourselves. Michel Fabre aptly entitled his biography of Wright The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright. Wright is exemplary in showing us why our quest for knowledge, for strategies of offense and defense, for wisdom is always unfinished.

JZ:

Were you aware that Wright wrote haiku when you started studying him?

JWW:

Yes. I read the ones published in New Letters in the early 1970s and thought of them as returns to the brief catalogs of images in Black Boy and experiments in reshaping the images that are threaded in Wright’s short stories and novels.

JZ:

Do you think Wright’s haiku deserve equal attention in comparison to his novels?

JWW:

His haiku deserve the attention you have brought to them in The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku, that Yoshinobu Hakutani brought to them in Richard Wright and Racial Discourse and more recently in Richard Wright and Haiku. The attention to his poetry ought to be conducted with the same rigor we accord to his novels, but we should entertain the possibility that the aims of interpretation might be different. We might study the haiku to discover more about Wright’s poetics, his creative imagination, and his fidelity to or transgression of Japanese aesthetics. On the other hand, we analyze and interpret the novels with the objective of discovering more about his social vision and critiques of history and politics.

JZ:

Yes, I agree that there might be different, even conflicting issues of interpretation across genres—indeed, there might be a thousand Wrights in a thousand people’s eyes. What is your current project?

JWW:

Reginald Martin of the University of Memphis and I are co-authoring “Words and Being”, a modest effort to deal with some of the frustrations that beset academic discussions of African American and other American combat/contact [End Page 24] zones in the chaos of American culture. We are proposing that common sense rather than obtuse philosophy is our most powerful tool in efforts to account for the changing order of things, to minimize unavoidable confusion in studies or everyday conversations involving cultures and cultural expressions. This is our primary thesis.

JZ:

I remember you were the one who helped establish the Richard Wright Newsletter. How was it established, who were the editors, and is it still in publication? If it continues publication, don’t you think it will attract more audiences and contributions if the name is changed to the Richard Wright Review?

JWW:

The entire run of the Richard Wright Newsletter, Vols. 1.1-13.1/2, along with the bibliographical supplements Keneth Kinnamon prepared, is archived at http://wrightconnection.ku.edu. Maryemma Graham and I established the newsletter in 1991 as the organ for the Richard Wright Circle; we served as co-editors until we passed the editorship to the late James A. Miller in either 2001 or 2002. Unlike a review or journal, the newsletter was a forum for information about new or forthcoming publications, ideas about teaching Wright’s works, announcements, brief commentaries by teachers and students, notes on research projects, some short reviews, and miscellaneous items. It was a print network for members of the Richard Wright Circle.

The Richard Wright Circle is in a kind of permanent hibernation, and it is rather painful for me to know that it will sleep forever. There is no future for the newsletter. It will remain as an archived resource for literary studies. If any scholars wanted to establish a Richard Wright Review, I would applaud their efforts. At present, there are so many societies devoted to single African American authors that they attract minimal attention. Only the Toni Morrison Society and the Langston Hughes Society continue to have high visibility and great success.

JZ:

Thank you for your time, Dr. Ward. Is there anything else you’d like to say about Richard Wright?

JWW:

There are many other things I want to say about Wright, but they will only materialize if I live long enough to write a book entitled “Richard Wright: One Reader’s Responses.” [End Page 25]

John Zheng

John Zheng is the editor of Sonia Sanchez’s Poetic Spirit through Haiku (Lexington, 2017), African American Haiku: Cultural Visions (UP of Mississippi, 2016), Conversations with Sterling Plumpp (UP of Mississippi, 2016), and The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku (UP of Mississippi, 2011). He teaches at Mississippi Valley State University, where he also serves as editor for the Journal of Ethnic American Literature.