By Christine S. Fagan, Collection Management Librarian
RWU is currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of Richard Wright’s Native Son. The selection of this text by the Birss Committee in early 2014 could not have been more relevant in light of the serious racial issues that have recently surfaced in Ferguson, New York and now Charleston. The program opened on February 1 with the Library exhibition, “Richard Wright’s Native Son: Then and Now,” focused on the book and its author, including:
- A first edition of the text, published as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection
- The Restored Text established by the Library of America based on the original manuscript
- A series of essays written for Ebony, two published and one unpublished, along with correspondence on the related controversy
- Photographs of Richard Wright, including one with his second wife, Ellen
- The New York Times review of the play, Native Son, directed by Orson Welles
- The New York Times obituary for Richard Wright
The exhibition also includes a photographic display juxtaposing images from South Side Chicago in the 1940s, the setting of the book, with contemporary images of protest as a result of current racial tensions related to the criminal justice system. People often ask in the midst of these problems, “Why is this happening?” I say to them, “Read Native Son” and perhaps you will understand the pain and frustration in the African-American community.
The Library exhibition continues through the end of April. Please stop by at your convenience and, if you have questions, ask for Professor Christine Fagan, curator.
The correlated online exhibition may be accessed at: https://libraryexhibits.rwu.edu/birss/2015/
A lively book discussion, sponsored by the RWU Library and the University Honors Program, was held on February 10 lead by Professor James Tackach and Honors student, Abigail DeVeuve. It was followed by a panel discussion on February 25, sponsored by the RWU Library, featuring Keith Stokes, a prominent member of the NAACP and member of the RWU President’s Advisory Council, and Diana Hassel, Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, RWU School of Law. Robert Eisinger, Professor and Dean, Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences, served as the moderator, posing challenging questions which generated meaningful and thought provoking discussion by panelists and members of the audience.
Finally, the Birss program culminated with the keynote lecture on March 4 featuring Jennifer Jensen Wallach, Associate Professor of History, University of North Texas and author of Richard Wright: From Black Boy to World Citizen. Wallach’s presentation highlighted events in Wright’s life and major themes in Native Son. Her explanation of their relevance in today’s society was sobering and insightful.