- Byline, Richard Wright: Articles from the Daily Worker and New Masses by Richard Wright
Earle V. Bryant's Byline, Richard Wright: Articles from the Daily Worker and New Masses historically contextualizes Wright's journey as a journalist with several publications during the years he was associated with the US Communist Party. Bryant's critical book chronicles the celebrated writer's activism not through his well-known literary works, but through his lesser-known periodical pieces that were featured in publications such as the Daily Worker (1921–1958), New Masses (1926–1948), and New Challenge (1937).1 Byline presents a detailed roadmap of Wright's editorial passage through an America that is suffering due to the Great Depression. The critical text examines the historic events that Wright humanized in an attempt to shed light on issues like: the African American livelihood in an impoverished Harlem, where many residents could not even afford the inflated price of milk; America as a global citizen in an ever-changing sociopolitical milieu; how Joe Louis came to represent democracy in his infamous match against Nazi Max Schmeling; [End Page 117] the unlikely faces of African American members within the Communist Party, like Mother Ross who was born a slave; and the importance of art as propaganda through the life and folk lyrics of Huddi Ledbetter. Bryant illustrates that Wright's journalistic work showcased the author's ability as an active observer/writer and his talent for encapsulating an era of political instability on local and international levels.
Bryant aims to demonstrate that Wright immortalized the everyday [wo]man, along with the celebrated, in order to create a realistic snapshot of the late-1930s in America. Bryant is successful in representing this; Wright's articles that he includes exemplifies the author's sense of responsibility, not only to the US Communist Party, but also to his fellow residents in Harlem and America in general. Much like Bigger Thomas in Wright's legendary Native Son (1940), within his periodical pieces Wright typifies the need to focus on all facets of human nature in order to produce a more fulfilling picture.
Byline is organized into five sections. For the most part, each section focuses on major/ minor and international/local historical events that affected the United States, and the African American community specifically. "Section One: The Shame Spot of New York" highlights Wright's never-ending work when it came to disclosing the inhabitable conditions of Harlem. Bryant makes a point of exhibiting Wright's social actions through a stoical pathos with his Daily Worker article "Negro, with 3-Week-Old Baby, Begs Food on Streets":
While Wright's account of Harlem's battered and bruised souls is heart-rending, his intent is not to evoke tears. 'If you are the type to weep,' he writes at the conclusion of 'Negro . . . Begs Food,' then 'you can have a good cry over this and then feel good, 'purged,' you know. But tears can't stop starvation.' Wright's primary purpose is to effect action, reform.(18)
In addition, pieces like "A.L.P. Assemblyman Urges State Control of Price of Milk" were also featured in the Daily Worker. Readers have no choice but to confront the devastating lifestyle of Mr. and Mrs. Adolphus Green and their children of Harlem:
What does this 1-cent per quart increase in the price of milk mean to a Negro family in Harlem? Mount the steps at 14 E. 120th St. and knock . . . you want to know how the rise in the price of milk will affect their living? . . . The children, including the mother and father, are undernourished. In telling the ages of her children, Mrs. Green declared timidly: 'I'm always ashamed to tell people how old my children are, they are so small. They simply don't get enough to eat.'(33–34)
Bryant establishes that Wright has the skill to drag the reader along with him in his journalistic endeavors in an impoverished Harlem situated in the Great Depression.
"Section Two: The...