Sunday, November 18, 2018

Richard Wright, literary studies, and ProQuest Dissertations

My formal studies of African American literature as a field began in 1996, about 22 years ago, in a course I took on the author Richard Wright with the Wright scholar Jerry W. Ward, Jr. At the time, I didn't think of what I was doing as African American literary studies, but it turns out that the early, low-level bibliographic work I did on Wright led me to the kind tech-based explorations I'm doing on ProQuest Dissertations today.

"Richard Wright" is one of the more frequently mentioned black writers in dissertations, appearing in 6,341 dissertations completed between 1943 and 2018. Utilizing ProQuest Dissertations, the earliest mention of Wright that I identified was from Hugh Gloster's "American Negro Fiction from Charles W. Chesnutt to Richard Wright." Most recently, 120 dissertations filed in 2018 mention "Richard Wright."

Wright appears in the titles of 96 dissertations filed between 1943 - 2018. The authors of some of those dissertations are a "who's who" of accomplished scholars of African American literature. In addition to Gloster's work, there's:
• Keneth Kinnamon's "The Emergence of Richard Wright: A Literary, Biographical, and Social Study" (1966)
• John Reilly's "Insight and Protest in the Works of Richard Wright" (1967)
• Eleanor Traylor's "Wright's Mythic and Grotesque Settings: Some Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Richard Wright" (1976)
• James Miller's "The Struggle for Identity in the Major Works of Richard Wright" (1976)
• Claudia Tate's "The Act of Rebellious Creation: A Critical Study of Richard Wright's Heroes" (1977)
• Maryemma Graham's "Aesthetic and Ideological Radalicsm in the 1930's: The Fiction of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes" (1977)
• Jerry W. Ward's "Richard Wright and His American Critics, 1936-1960" (1978)
• Joyce Ann Joyce's "Richard Wright's 'The Long Dream': An Aesthetic Extension of 'Native Son.'" (1979)
• Valerie Ann Smith's "'The Singer in One's Soul': Storytelling in the Fiction of James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison (Afro-American Authors)" (1982)
• Virginia Whatley Smith's "Richard Wright's 'Tarbaby Series" (1988)
Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston are the only two black literary artists mentioned more in the titles than Wright, and that is largely due to the 1990s surge in interest in black women writers.

What really stood  out to me while sifting through Wright mentions in titles and the contents of dissertations was the extent to which he serves as a crucial connector. People producing dissertations concentrate reference Wright when focusing on those who followed the Harlem Renaissance. They mention Wright when noting key precursors to the Black Arts Movement, and Wright comes up in discussions of Southern literature. He's discussed in relation to Hurston, Willam Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Morrison, communism, Leftist writers, and black women writing in general.

Few black writers are discussed across as many topics and in relation to as many authors as Wright. He's a central node in various literary and cultural networks.  

What I'm enjoying about the explorations on ProQuest Dissertations, though, is taking a look at Wright's mentions over time and in different contexts of many then-graduate students.

A Notebook on ProQuest Dissertations and Theses
A Notebook on Richard Wright

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