A few nights ago, I stayed up past midnight writing a piece. PBS was on in the background. I wasn’t paying much attention until pre-film credits started to roll and I glanced up to see opening scenes of Native Son.
I had never seen Native Son. Or read the book. I first started researching Richard Wright last summer when I did a presentation on James Baldwin. We read “Giovanni’s Room” and “Another Country” for the writing Intensive in Taos last year. I fell in love with James Baldwin. One of Baldwin’s mentors was Richard Wright.
After we got back from Taos, a writer friend of mine went to a Twin Cities used bookstore and bought up all the Baldwin books. Some were original paperbacks; they smelled like the 60’s. She gave them to me as a gift.
One was Baldwin’s collection of essays, “Notes of a Native Son.” When she paid the clerk, the woman said, “Oh, there’s been a resurgence of the Harlem Renaissance writers lately.”
I’m not surprised.
I found the 1986 film version of Native Son to be heavy-handed and over dramatic. But I stayed up and watched anyway. Out of curiosity, I decided to research Wright a little more and stumbled on a Washington Post article on poetry.
While taking refuge in France from the fallout of his books, “Native Son” and “Black Boy,” Richard Wright wrote and studied haiku. There are 810 in his collection, “Haiku: This Other World,” published by Arcade in New York.
Not only that, according to the Robert Hass article, 5 Haikus By Richard Wright, Wright’s agent said he wrote 4000 poems during the last 18 months of his life, from the summer of 1959 until his death in 1960.
It makes sense to me that Wright would turn to haiku. Simple. Bare. And elegant. A good place to stop and rest. Shelter from the storm.
I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.
A sleepless spring night:
Yearning for what I never had
And for what never was.
-Richard Wright, from “Haiku: This Other World,” by Richard Wright
Saturday, April 21st, 2007