"The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever. No matter how much qualifying the book might later need, it made impossible a repetition of old lies."
The words are Irving Howe's, the literary critic. Native Son is the novel that became an instant success in 1940. And its author was Richard Wright, the first African-American novelist to make it to the bestseller list. Wright's autobiographical Black Boy followed in 1945, and for the next 15 years, Wright followed through with fiction and nonfiction, radical politics, and fortune and misfortune — first in Chicago, then in New York, and finally in Paris, where Wright became a permanent expatriate until his death in 1960. Before Chicago, New York, and Paris, however, there was a cotton plantation outside Natchez, Mississippi, where Wright was born on September 4, 1908. Then there was Memphis, where Wright's sharecropper father and schoolteacher mother moved the family in 1911. The misfortunes didn't stop there, but Wright's onetime hometown will be honoring the man and his works this week to celebrate "Richard Wright at 100."
The site is the National Civil Rights Museum, which is working with the Joysmith Gallery, the Hattiloo Theatre, and Rhodes College to honor Wright's achievements. Joysmith has put together an exhibit by artists from across the nation. Actor Charles Holt will be performing from the pages of Black Boy. And Robert Bain of Cornell University will be lecturing on Wright's contribution to the civil rights movement. The main events run from Thursday, September 4th, to Saturday, September 6th, and continue throughout the month with performances, for youngsters, by local actor Darius Wallace. For a full schedule of events, times, and ticket prices, call the Hattiloo Theatre (502-3486) or the National Civil Rights Museum (521-9699).
"Richard Wright at 100," the National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry throughout September.