THE HOMESTRETCH TO THE CENTENNIAL
My mother, Ellen Poplar married Richard Wright on March 12 1941 and died on
April 6 2004, aged 92. Forty four years after Richard. They are both buried in
the French exile they chose, in Paris. Ellen was the Executrix of the Richard
Wright Estate for long decades before her death, and was as well a literary
agent in her own right (her "stable" included Simone de Beauvoir, Eldridge
Cleaver, Violette Leduc, etc…).
In the late seventies, I returned to Paris from my freelance journalism work
in Africa to help my aging mother to shoulder the dialogue of Richard
Wright's paper sons and daughters with the world. As from 2004, I have been
representing the Estate in her place, helped through my mourning by the thought of a
birth, a century ago in 1908, in Natchez. And how to commemorate that birth
My personal gift to my father on his Birthday was to convince HarperCollins
to publish his last unpublished draft, uncorrected and unsubmitted. Death
literally prevented him from giving it the ending he would have wanted for it.
It is called "A Father's Law" and will be published by HarperCollins on January
8th with a short introduction by me, describing how I found it and related to
the conflict between the generations it depicts.
My second gift was to Richard Wright’s readership, deprived for so long from
his political non fiction written in exile at the height of the Cold War.
These books, essentially a trilogy, “Black Power”, “White man, listen!”, “The
Color Curtain”, had been allowed to fall out of print for reasons of “poor
sales” - some claimed; for reasons of “black listing” – others claimed.
Wherever the truth lies, it was my wish to give these later writings back to the
public and again HarperCollins worked in agreement by issuing an omnibus
containing all three works, due to hit the bookshops in February 2008.
Meanwhile, the idea of a preliminary series of Pre-Centennial Lectures and
gatherings to plan Richard Wright events was born. The idea was to give
autobiographical talks based on my own work in progress wherever interest in Richard
Wright was strong and leave my hosts free to brainstorm and plan their own
creative tributes to Richard Wright – from Centennial Committees to Festivals to
art and the creation of landmarks and encouragement of his ideas, from
literacy to the unrelenting struggle against racism. During 2006, I followed the
trail of Pre-Centennial interest in him from Seattle to the University of
Columbia, Missouri. Professor Julius Thompson, my first Pre-Centennial lecture host,
passed away barely a week ago. May he rest in peace. In New Orleans, I spoke on
the uncanny resemblance with Katrina, of the floods portrayed in "Uncle Tom's
Children" and "Eight Men"– only to speak the following week in arid Arizona
on campus but also in the community. I spoke at the University of Massachusetts
and a few days ago at the University of Temple and at the University of
Pennsylvania , the guest of Professor Joyce Anne Joyce, one of the first
outstanding Richard Wright scholars. It was during a summer of many speeches that we
learned that Michel Fabre, the author of "The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright"
had also passed. My condolences to Geneviève.
Each time I left to go home to exile, Paris, and to my memoir. Meanwhile,
Professor Jerry Ward was sparking off Richard Wright Reading Circles which
became a household word throughout the South. And feisty, driven women like
Professor Maryemma Graham and Dr. Colia Clark traced a network of revival throughout
And so 2008 looms with from February 20 to 24 in Natchez, The Natchez
Literary and Film Festival totally dedicated to Richard Wright, (contact Carolyn
Vance Smith : email@example.com).
March 28-March 30 : I will be speaking on the theme of “Transmission and
Resistance” at the Conference of Black Writers at Medgar Evers College, (contact:
March 29 (4:30 p.m.) takes us to the Schomburg Center in Harlem where we
will be hosted by the Organization of American Historians, Howard Dodson and
Professor Maryemma Graham on a panel of historians discussing : “Richard Wright at
100 : looking backward and forward” (contact Maryemma Graham :
April 13th 2008 : Richard Wright day at the University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill (contact : firstname.lastname@example.org). This will be a daylong
commemoration where I share the keynote with my longstanding friend, Pr. Jerry Ward.
April 20th to 27th is Richard Wright Week in Philadelphia (contact Dr. Colia
Clark : email@example.com or Larry Robin : firstname.lastname@example.org).
June 19 and 20: American University of Paris, an international seminar on
Richard Wright (contact William Dow : email@example.com or Alice Craven :
June 28th : a seminar on Richard Wright in Hiroshima, Japan, sponsored by
the Japanese Black Studies Association (contact Toru Kiuchi :
September 4 to 12 2008 : Jackson Mississippi Richard Wright week at various
venues (confirmation with firstname.lastname@example.org).
October 1st 2008 : I will be giving the first DuBois Institute lecture in
Harvard (Contact Dell Hamilton:email@example.com)
These are but a few early examples of venues, with others being planned in
Jackson and Memphis, spilling over into 2010. 2010 being the commemoration of
my father's premature death in 1960.
Two websites and four email connections will keep all those who seek more
details regularly updated :
1. http://www.harpercollins.comhttp://www.har 2. http://www.colin.edu/nlcc
Contains the full schedule for 2008 NLCC “Richard Wright, the South, and
The World,” February 21-24, 2008, and the link [Reading Richard Wright opens on
Jerry Ward’s year-long discussion project in Natchez.
Official website for the Project on the History of Black Writing at the
University of Kansas.
For Richard Wright at 100 events, nationally and internationally.
The four emails connections are : Pr. Jerry Ward firstname.lastname@example.org, Pr.
Maryemma Graham email@example.com, Dr. Colia Clark firstname.lastname@example.org, Julia
Wright richardwrightcentennial.jwrichardwri .
Everybody has internalized his or her Richard Wright. That is how it should
be. If, as his elder daughter, I had a personal emphasis to put I would say
that though the elites of Academia have claimed him and indeed deconstructed and
post-deconstructed him, he belongs in the end to the community. Bigger was
electrocuted by the State, x-rayed by showpiece Academia, given care and
attention where academics can be most generous - and yet, elusive still, he is alive
and kicking out there seeking answers to questions that are being asked
Paris Dec 18th 2007
other email: email@example.com (put j.wright on the subject line)
James A. Miller
Professor of English and American Studies
& Chair, American Studies Department
The George Washington University
2108 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20052