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.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.