Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Richard Wright as an Escape Artist

In the standard biographical sketches, Richard Wright is said to have "left" the South. But read his autobiography carefully and study the circumstances of black boys in the Jim Crow South, and it's apparent that it's more accurate to say that Wright escaped.

At the end of Southern section of Black Boy Wright explains that "This was the culture from which I sprang. This was the terror from which I fled." Toward the end f the Chicago section, Wright details his break with the Communist Party, and what's not in the book is that in 1947, a couple years after the publication of his autobiography, he decided to leave the United States for France.

I encountered Wright's Native Son my senior year of high school in Tennessee, and I read his autobiography the after my first year at Tougaloo College in Mississippi while I was in summer school in France. What really stood out to me at that time was that Wright had gotten out. He had been a black boy from the South, in some really tough conditions, and he had gotten out and away.        

I didn't have the language back then, but clearly, looking back, I was marveling at Wright's abilities as an escape artist. He somehow managed to free himself from those typical locks and straitjackets that restrain Southern black boys.

A Notebook on Escape Artists

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