African American Read-In, 2015
This year, the National African American Read-In begins on Sunday, February 1, and ends on Saturday, February 28.
Access “2015 National African American Read-In” at http://www.ncte.org/aari/ for details.
This year marks the Margaret Walker Centennial. Many of the readings during Black History Month, as well as the 2015 calendar year, should involve programs on Walker’s life and works. For My People (1942), Jubilee (1966), and This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems (1989) are at the top of the list for reading in February. From March through December , one might find pockets of time for reading Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (1988), How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature (1990), On Being Female, Black and Free (1997), and A Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker (1974). Anyone who wants to enjoy communion with Walker’s extraordinary intelligence should read “The Humanistic Tradition of Afro-American Literature.” American Libraries 1.9 (1970): 849-854.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Black Boy and the 75th anniversary of Native Son.
Non-scholars and scholars alike have given critical attention to Wright’s masterpiece since 1945. They have applauded Black Boy; they have quarreled with it. It has existed as a superb instance of black writing, of American literature, and of work that people from many nations have translated into their native languages. It will continue throughout the twenty-first century to be a source for cautious hope as well as, to borrow wording from Wright’s novel The Outsider, “that baleful gift of the sense of dread.”
Black Boy is one of Richard Wright’s major gifts to time past, present, and future. It is a gift to be treasured. It is a gift for everyday use and equipment for living and for dealing with one’s trublems.
Black Boy is a powerful model of how to think about one’s location in historical time and complex environments and of how to write about one’s location with an honesty that is at once aesthetic and didactic. Teachers of rhetoric and composition can use the text to help adolescent writers, in particular, to gain mastery of grammar, syntax, vocabulary, images, and figures of speech as they struggle with the problems of narrating their life histories. All writers, of course, can learn valuable lessons about perspective from Richard Wright, just as visual artists can learn about excellence in drawing from Charles White and musicians can absorb how to use physics in the composition of sounds from John Coltrane. All of us can learn from Richard Wright what Chinese sages have known for several thousand years ---the flow of dao and tian and yin and yang that gives positive meaning to our suffering beneath the stars.
Readers have given a substantial amount of critical attention to Native Son, a novel that is essential for understanding how American fiction of the 20th century so often embraced the primal ingredients of what escapes specific time and drives change in the United States of America. Fifteen years prior to the publication of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (1955), Richard Wright was shining the light of disquietude upon a thankless world. The world of 1940 did not listen carefully enough to what Wright was saying in Native Son. Thus, thirteen years later he issued a second communiqué in the form of The Outsider. Read in tandem, Native Son and The Outsider provide us with the strongest clues pure fiction can deliver about why our world seems to be swimming like a shark in butter-milk toward its Omega Point. In the post-whatsoeverness of 2015, only an insignificant number of people will fail to hear Wright’s messages.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
January 25, 2015