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Responding to Richard Wright :An Open Letter to Writers

Responding to Richard Wright (1908-1960):
An Open Letter to Writers

Dear Writers:

To mark the Richard Wright Centennial, I thought we should have a book entitled Richard Wright: One Hundred Writers Respond. It would be a record of what writers in the twenty-first century think about a major twentieth-century author. Each contributor would supply a brief essay (5 to 6 pages) in reply to this question: WHAT DO WRIGHT’S WORKS MEAN TO ME? One model for the essays is the
foreword Edward P. Jones wrote for the 60th anniversary edition of Black Boy (2005). Writers from many countries would be asked to submit their reflections on the value of Wright’s works. Wright’s daughter Julia would supply an introduction; as co-editors, Kalamu ya Salaam and I would write afterwords. This was a wonderful idea. I sent a proposal to a major American publishing company.

The senior editor to whom I addressed my proposal shattered my dream with three bricks of reality. Although the project had some merit, he informed me on August 6, 2007 that the legal paperwork would be a huge commitment for his contract department. Even if the publisher did not pay contributors , the company would need one hundred legal agreements to print their essays.

The editor felt that I had underestimated the editorial work that would be required. Not only would I be obligated to find out which one hundred writers would be interested in the project, but I would have responsibility for ensuring that those writers did not overlap too much in their coverage. Moreover, I would actually have to edit their pieces.

Books involving many authors, the editor assured me, are “notoriously
difficult to sell,” even when one is dealing with so distinguished an author as Richard Wright and his centennial year. It would be a mammoth and difficult task for Kalamu and me to complete the book in time for the Centennial. Richard Wright: One Hundred Writers Respond would be a “very difficult book to pull off both editorially and as a publishing project.

For the reasons specified by the senior editor, I suspect no publisher will embrace the project at this time. Shattered dreams, however, do not necessarily die. I remain undaunted.

I still believe (and I hope my belief is not blatantly naïve) there are more than one hundred writers for whom Wright’s works resonate. I believe they will write the essays I dreamed of and publish them in magazines, newspapers, and websites in the United States and elsewhere. I believe that some of these essays will be collected in the future and published as a book by some publishing firm.

Therefore, I request that writers from all nations and cultures respond by publishing somewhere during 2008 what Wright’s legacy means to them. Like Richard Wright at the end of the restored edition of Black Boy, I am certain it is worthwhile to “hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo.” In the spirit of Wright, it is necessary for writers to continually “keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
Dillard University

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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