Making the Wright Connection

An Online Community for the Study of Richard Wright

Centennial of Richard Wright’s Birth

Posted on September 9, 2010 | No Comments

September 4, 2008, Richard Wright’s 100th birthday, began with early morning radio broadcasts. On National Public Radio, Garrison Keller made remarks about Wright’s importance on “The Writer’s Almanac.” Patrick Oliver hosted the birthday tribute on “Literary Nation” (KABF FM 88.3, Little Rock, Arkansas) which included interviews with Dr. Patricia McGraw and Jerry Ward. At Tougaloo College, Dr. Howard Rambsy (Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville) spoke on publishing and Wright, a prelude to evening activities. In Little Rock, the Willie Hinton Neighborhood Resource Center unveiled the “Richard Wright Day Proclamation” and presented a program of Wright’s poetry; discussions of Wright’s teenage years, Wright and the Harlem Renaissance, Wright and today’s music (rap, r&b, hip-hop); readings of excerpts from Wright’s works by male youths. In Dallas, Texas, the Paul Quinn College Library presented “One Book, One College.” In Mississippi, citizens of Jackson initiated a week of events (September 4 – 11) with a birthday reception for Wright’s daughter, Julia, at Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, the school from which her father graduated in 1925. Although the 100th anniversary of Wright’s birth was a climactic moment, it marked new beginnings rather than a traditional sense of an ending.

The week of events in Jackson included:

  • September 5 —”Tour: Richard Wright’s Jackson”
  • September 5 and 6 —Richard Wright Institute for Teachers sponsored by the Margaret Walker Alexander Research Center, Jackson State University
  • September 6 —Richard Wright Parade in which five Jackson Public Schools bands participated
  • September 7 —Humanities forum on “Richard Wright and Activism” featuring Julia Wright, College of Liberal Arts, Jackson State University
  • September 9 —Keynote address by Julia Wright at Tougaloo College
  • September 10 —Wright Day to Read (Tougaloo College) with Jerry Ward’s lecture “One Writer’s Legacy: Richard Wright and Our 21st Century” Mississippi Department of Archives and History “History is Lunch Series” featuring Julia Wright and former Governor William Winter
  • September 11 —Address and book signing by Julia Wright at Tougaloo College Lecture by Dr. Marvin Haire (Mississippi Valley State University) on “Richard Wright and the Blues” at the State Capitol

Other September events included:

  • September 15 —”Celebrating African American Voices at Pennsylvania State University” (“The Legacy of Richard Wright” lecture by Jerry Ward)
  • September 20 —Initial meeting of the Mississippi Humanities Council’s “4 W Teachers Institute” which will involve workshops throughout the year on Richard Wright, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Margaret Walker
  • September 27 —”Richard Nathaniel Wright: A Centennial Celebration” at the Historic Natchez Foundation

Wright left Jackson for Memphis in 1925, and the celebratory events followed the same path with Julia Wright’s keynote address at the University of Memphis, Fogelman Executive Center, on October 2. The University sponsored a symposium on Wright and Reginald Brown, “Performing Richard Wright” on October 3. The same day Southwest Tennessee Community College students performed dramatic readings of Wright’s texts under the direction of the playwright Levi Frazier. Conversations with Julia Wright and Honors Academy and Service Learning Students were held October 4 at Parrish Library; on October 6, Julia Wright was the International Education speaker at the STCC Union Campus Theater. Also scheduled for the month are Jerry Ward’s “Reading Wright” for the Wright reading group at Vanderbilt University on October 8; “Drumvoices: A Celebration of Richard Wright (1908-1960) and Henry Dumas (1934-1968)” at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey) on October 16 [This event was organized by Cheryl A. Wall (Rutgers) and Eugene B. Redmond, editor of Drumvoices Revue.]; “Richard Wright Centennial Discussion,” Community Book Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18.

On November 7-8, the Richard Wright Centennial Symposium will be held at the African American Museum in Dallas, Texas. This meeting includes talks by Julia Wright, James A. Miller (The Richard Wright Circle), Maryemma Graham (University of Kansas), Jerry W. Ward, Jr. (Dillard University) and Dereck C. Catsam (University of Texas of the Permian Basin). Darryl Dickerson-Carr (Southern Methodist University) will speak on “Writers’ Block on Richard Wright” at Paper Backs Plus (Dallas). The final major event for the 2008 centennial year will be “Richard Wright at 100,” an International Conference—Department of Letters, University of Beira Interior, Portugal on November 28 and 29.

In addition to many 2008 newspaper and magazine articles on Wright, The Richard Wright Encyclopedia, edited by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. and Robert J. Butler, was published by Greenwood Press on June 30. Drumvoices Revue, Vol. 16 Numbers 1 and 2 (Spring–Summer–Fall 2008), featured “Kwansabas for Richard Wright Centennial” by 95 writers; Julia Wright’s essay “The Homestretch to the Centennial” and her four tankas for Wright’s 100th Birthday, and Joyce Ann Joyce’s “Richard Wright’s A Father’s Law” (review essay). The Mississippi Quarterly’s special issue on Wright is now in press as is The Southern Quarterly’s issue that will contain papers from the 2008 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, “Richard Wright, the South, and the World.”

Wright’s influence in the worlds of literature and international thought is such that tributes to him will continue in 2009. Dr. Wilfred D. Samuels has already issued a call for papers for the symposium “Richard Wright: The Man, the Writer, and His Place in American and African American Letters” at the University of Utah, April 2-5, 2009. Those who have profited greatly from Richard Wright’s legacy now await an official announcement from the United States Postal Service that we will be able to mail our letters with Richard Wright stamps.


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