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By Richard Wright (1940)
First Edition, First Printing
DESCRIPTION: Despite single-handedly starting the genre now known as "African-American Literature," the feisty Richard Wright had trouble his entire life with getting the proper recognition his work deserved, mostly because he had trouble even getting along in whatever group he would find himself associated with over the years -- whether that's the American communists in Chicago he spent time with in the 1930s, as a part of the New Deal's WPA (where, like his friend Nelson Algren, Wright would eventually distance himself from the group after being horrified by the tactics of the Stalinists), the radical left wing in New York where he would soon move (which was both racist to him and accused him of being bourgeoise), the intellectuals of the publishing world (who accused Wright of including too much violence in his award-winning books, and thereby confirming to whites their worst fears about a strong, independent black man), the Existentialists of Paris, where Wright moved after the war (because of his refusal to work with the group favorite "Congress for Cultural Freedom," for rightly suspecting it had CIA ties), even fellow African-American pioneers (like James Baldwin, for example, who once wrote an entire book of essays named for his scathing indictment of Wright's work).
But perhaps that's best for all of us as readers, for without this natural fighting spirit, Wright might have never made the main point he did in 1940's Native Son (his explosive debut novel, after an earlier story collection that raised the eyes of many lit-industry people, and which went on to become a Book Of The Month pick and the highest selling novel by a black author in history): that because of the pervasive racism that still permeates every aspect of society, beneath the pleasant exterior of any "civilized" black man lurks the seething, violent heart of a Bigger Thomas, the Chicago lumpen proletariat who serves as the antihero of Native Son. Bigger can't help being the violent blue-collar bruiser that he is, because any attempts to truly live his life the way he wishes are blocked at every turn by sometimes subsumed, thoroughly institutionalized racism; and this is the exact thing that struck a chord with so many of Wright's readers, in a time when the Emancipation Proclamation was supposed to have stopped discrimination but hadn't, when the "democracy fighters" of World War Two were tolerating such a two-tiered society back at home. If it wasn't for the angry but intelligent diatribes of '40s writers like Wright, essentially the first wave of black American authors to gain a popular legitimacy among mainstream white audiences, there wouldn't have been the slow organizing of a unified civil-rights movement in the '50s, leading to the successes they had in the '60s (or so says Wright's fans); and with this particular copy of Native Son being sold as inexpensively as it is (but see "Condition" below for more), this is a chance to own a legitimate piece of history for not a lot of dough, the book that birthed an entire new wing of literature and that in a scant six months made Wright the richest black author in American history, and then a troubled spokesman for "the black experience" for decades after.
CONDITION: Text: Good Minus (G-). The good news is that this historically important book is being offered at a very affordable price today, but the bad news is that this is because the book simply isn't in very good shape: there are small tears in the fabric along all of the edges, a spine decoration that is mostly now missing or faded, a large stain on the back cover, several dents in the front cover, slight foxing on the inside covers, and pages that are beginning to yellow at the edges, with a large ink signature "Mabel R. Paxton" on the front inside cover. Dust Jacket: Missing. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, a stated "First Edition A-P," and lack of additional printing statements, makes this a first edition, first printing.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP on September 2, 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair.