Making the Wright Connection

An Online Community for the Study of Richard Wright

Zen and the Art of Richard Wright

Posted on October 2, 2011 | No Comments

The Wright Connection is pleased to present the essay “Zen and the Art of Richard Wright” by Terri Havens.  Mr. Havens is currently completing his undergraduate work at Wyoming Correctional Facility, under the direction of Professor Robert Butler, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.  When he is released from prison, Mr. Havens intends to pursue graduate work.

An excerpt from “Zen and the Art of Richard Wright”:

Time exists for us because we measure it vicariously by observing the movement of things. Consequently, however, we arbitrarily designate point As and point Bs along a seemingly linear construct. And herein lies the problem: we tend to merge these pairs of points and make out of them destinations—that follow one after the other in endless procession—instead of admiring the transitions and transformations these junctions actually represent. Through words Richard Wright would ultimately find freedom, but when we look at his mind’s—and subsequently his craft’s—journey through the metamorphoses of understanding the magic, power, and catharsis of literary expression, we can see a very logical progression that redirects his journey inward with nary a destination in sight.

Through a succession of experiences involving the assimilation and employment of words—or lack thereof, as in the beginning of Black Boy (American Hunger)—Wright shows us this transformation in stark detail albeit with the benefit of hindsight. By focusing on seemingly separate instances throughout his autobiography, the reader can holistically discern a ‘quasi-Sidharthean’ quest for enlightenment. For Wright this takes varying forms and degrees of freedom from an alternation of oppressive environments contained in an early twentieth-century South, an urbanized North of the Twenties and Thirties, and self as positioned not only against environment, but also against his own understanding of self—a oneness only hinted at in Existentialism and exemplified in Zen Buddhism. This transition, and thus his autobiography, would end not in American Hunger but in the thousands of haiku poems he would pen in the last eighteen months of his life under the auspices of self-imposed exile in France.

Read the entire essay:  Zen and the Art of Richard Wright by Terri Havens

More on Professor Robert Butler’s experience teaching Wright to correctional facility inmates.

Teaching Richard Wright in Prison

Posted on September 19, 2011 | No Comments

Guest blogger Professor Robert Butler joins us from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.

Since 1976 Canisius College, along with Niagara University and Daemen College, have sponsored a degree-granting college program in prison called the Consortium of the Niagara Frontier.  For many years we had sites at Attica, Collins, and Wyoming correctional facilities but budget cuts from state and federal governments have now reduced our program to a single site at Wyoming Correctional Facility, a medium security prison located directly in back of Attica Correctional Facility.

Since 1977 I have taught on a very regular basis in this program, offering a wide variety of courses ranging from English 101 and 102 to Modern American Literature, The City in American Literature, and American Autobiography.  I have frequently taught works by Richard Wright in all of these courses and have been richly rewarded as a teacher by the insight and passion which these prison students bring to their study of Wright’s books, especially Native Son, Black Boy (American Hunger), and “The Man Who Lived Underground.”  Over the years, I have come to believe strongly that Consortium students have a special understanding of Wright’s writing and I have learned much about Wright from them.

In Native Son Wright had Bigger Thomas characterize his life as “like living in jail” (20).  And in Black Boy (American Hunger) he remarked that the South was a place that trapped him in a world “ringed by walls” (296) and also “imprisoned” the “soul” (40) of his father.  But his own ambitious program of self-education which enabled him to read books by writers such as Dreiser, Mencken, Dostoevsky, Zola, and Conrad, released him from this prison, providing him with “new ways of looking and seeing” (294), creating a liberating “new life” (296) for him.  Many of the students whom I have taught in prison have described their participation in our college program in strikingly similar terms.  Stephen Fraley, who completed his bachelor’s degree at Attica, once revealed in an essay on Native Son that “I was rescued in prison.  I came back from the dead.”  Lawrence Wilson, who also completed his college program at Attica, revealed in a graduation address that “The education we receive in the college program at Attica is an education that is experienced, not from afar, but as an intimate part of our being and living.”  Hassan Linnen, who received his college diploma while incarcerated at Collins Correctional Facility noted in his graduation address that

The Consortium is more than a program, more than a school.  It is a place I shall always remember as a safe harbor in the sea that my ignorance reigned over with its tidal waves of hopelessness and shame.  I could have spent my time in the yard playing basketball or lifting weights.  But, no! I spent my time in the cocoon which determination, opportunity, and the Consortium had spun.

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New Publication

Posted on August 10, 2011 | No Comments

The Wright Connection is pleased to announce the publication of Richard Wright: New Readings in the 21st Century, edited by Alice Mikal Craven and William E. Dow (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Gathering some of the most important Wright scholarship in the world, along with perspectives from emerging Wright critics, Richard Wright: New Readings in the 21st Century, explores new themes and theoretical orientations.

Essays center on modernism, racism and spatial dimensions, the transnational and political Wright, Wright and class, Wright and the American 1950s and 1960s, and some of the first analyses of Wright’s recently published A Father’s Law (2008). This dynamic collection combines literary and cultural theory with methods of archival research to provide an expanded vision of Wright’s impact on thinking in the twenty-first century.

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Half Centennial Tribute Poster

Posted on June 16, 2011 | No Comments

November 30, 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of Richard Wright.  In Paris, France, where he died, many gathered at his former home, his favorite places and his burial site at Pere Lachaise Cemetery.  Julia Browne, CEO and Founder of Walking the Spirit Tours, collected images from some of those in Paris to celebrate Wright’s half centennial and created this Wright Tribute Poster from that event.

Images from the “Richard Wright Suite” at Yale University

Posted on June 6, 2011 | No Comments

The Yale Digital Commons searchable Cross Collection Discovery contains a portfolio of six etchings and aquatints making up the Richard Wright Suite (2001) by artist John Wilson.  The titles are:


The Death of Mann

Mann Attacked

Death of Lulu

Journey of the Mann Family of Lulu

Light in the Window

The Richard Wright Suite is housed in the Yale University Art Gallery.

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