A masterful chronicler of the African American experience, Richard Wright (1908-1960) was one of the most controversial and insightful writers America has produced. In 1957 the publication of Pagan Spain, marked a profound change in his literary and intellectual life and reflected a style more suitable for polemic than for travel writing.
Indeed, as Pagan Spain portrays midcentury Spain as a country of tragic beauty, political oppression, and contradictions, Wright amalgamates at once polemic, travel narrative, history, and journalistic essay. He combines, as well, first-person narrative, eyewitness reporting, commentary, anecdotes, vignettes, and dramatic monologue.
At the time this book was originally published, the Spanish, despite a strong Catholic heritage, were shown as embracing a primitive and primeval faith. Expanding his comments on this paradox, Wright fashions a candid portrait of a country scarred by civil war and with an excoriating condemnation of Francisco Franco's dictatorship. In this opinionated travelogue Wright sees himself as a humanist and reporter, a nonpartisan freedom fighter who is ceaselessly probing, tracing, analyzing, and denouncing the signs of evil he associates with white patriarchy and Western imperialism.
Pagan Spain, less a journalistic account of a people and an exotic locale than it is a sociological critique of a corrupt system of government, is Wright's only nonfiction book on the subject of a European country. It reveals the striking contradictions within himself as well as within Spain. As a black man in the 1950s he castigates the West for its colonialism and imperialism, while as an intellectual he embraces the secular humanism of Western Civilization. His conflicted feelings about the West are perfectly suited to his analysis of Spain, a country allied with the West but also removed from it. The book is a daring portrait of a country in turmoil.
The introduction by Faith Berry puts Pagan Spain in context with the trajectory of Wright's philosophical thought. She notes how his dissatisfaction with the Franco government was, in part, the result of his disillusionment with the Communist Party, of which he had been a member.
Richard Wright is the author of Native Son, Uncle Tom's Children, Black Boy, The Color Curtain, and other books.
Faith Berry is the author of Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem and is the editor of A Scholar's Conscience: Selected Writings of J. Saunders Redding, 1942-1977 and of the forthcoming book From Bondage to Liberation: Writings by and about Afro-Americans from 1700 to the Present.