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Monday, August 24, 2015

Letter to the New York Times

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

1928 Gentilly Blvd.

New Orleans, LA 70119-2002



August 24, 2015



Mr. Dean Baquet

Executive Editor

The New York Times

620 Eighth Avenue

New York, New York 10018-1618


Dear Mr. Baquet:


Although the onus for what might be offensive in The New York Times does not rest only on your shoulders,  I direct my disappointment with Vinson Cunningham's "Can Black Art Ever Escape the Politics of Race?" (NYT Magazine online, August 20, 2015) to you.  This title is a red herring.  If Cunningham were familiar with the work of Frank Yerby, he would know some instances of black art long ago escaped the politics of race.  His apparent lack of knowledge and carelessness is reflected in his opening sentence; his assertion that Richard Wright was "late of Harlem and Biloxi, Miss." is a blatant bit of misinformation. When Wright moved his family to Paris in August 1947, he was late of Greenwich Village.  As far as Wright scholars know, he never set foot in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Cunningham's lack of care regarding his prose is signaled by such wording as "recusal from turmoil" and "Zen on loan." That kind of wording might be found in contemporary poetry; it is ill-chosen in serious journalism.


It is quite annoying to me and a few other African American writers that The New York Times published Cunningham's article without noticing the phrase "tribal pride" is offensive or attending to Cunningham's inability to construct a coherent argument.  His attempt to say something about "art for life's sake" versus "art for art's sake" is pathetic. 


A number of the articles and reviews your newspaper has printed in 2015 have accorded noteworthy disrespect to African American literature and writers, particularly in left-handed "compliments" about the legacies of Richard Wright and James Baldwin.  I hereby request that The New York Times in the future will use an internal consent decree and publish commentaries on black art, literature, and culture that observe high standards of critical thought.  Otherwise, we shall have grounds for believing the newspaper is involved in covert warfare on the integrity of African American cultural expressions.






Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

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