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Richard Wright : Early Works : Lawd Today! / Uncle Tom's Children / Native Son (Library of America) Hardcover – October 1, 1991

4.5 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The Library of America has insured that most of Wright'smajor texts are now available as he wanted them tobe read." -- -- Alfred Kazin, New York Times Book Review

Collection of four novellas by Richard Wright, published in 1938. The collection, Wright's first published book, was awarded the 1938 Story magazine prize for the best book written by anyone involved in the WPA Federal Writers' Project. Set in the American Deep South, each novella concerns an aspect of the lives of black people and explores their resistance to white racism and oppression. The stories are "Big Boy Leaves Home," "Down by the Riverside," "Long Black Song," and "Fire and Cloud." Thematically and stylistically they form a consistent whole. In 1940 an enlarged edition of Uncle Tom's Children was published. Subtitled "Five Long Stories," it also contained a nonfiction essay, "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow," and a polemical short story, "Bright and Morning Star"; both additions were thought by critics to have damaged the literary integrity of the book. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Richard Wright was born in 1908 in rural Mississippi and died in Paris in 1960. His Native Son and Black Boy are best-selling American classics. His other books include The Outsider, Black Power, and White Man, Listen!

Arnold Rampersad (Ph.D. Harvard) is the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, at Stanford University. He is co-editor (with Deborah E. McDowell) of Slavery and the Literary Imagination, and editor of the definitive Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. He is the author of the two-volume biography The Life of Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson: A Biography, and co-author (with Arthur Ashe) of Days of Grace: A Memoir. He is also editor of The Harlem Renaissance.
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Product Details

  • Series: Library of America (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 936 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America; Fifth or Later Edition edition (October 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940450666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940450660
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Bekken on March 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Uncle Tom's Children is probably one of the most brutal books ever written on the topic of racism and racial oppression. The stories sneak their way into the far back of the reader's mind, and forces one to confront the racism latent within oneself. That is by no means a small feat for a book to accomplish, and it makes the reading both painful and powerful, sa well as infinitely rewarding. Personally, I don't recall ever having seen the ugliness of racism so brilliantly treated in any other work of literature, bar none. The addition of the autobiographical sketch and the extra story in some editions of this book is just a bonus, and does not decrease the value or importance of this masterpiece.
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Format: Paperback
This 1938 collection of short stories by Richard Wright (1908-1960) was the first book the author had published. Wright had a remarkable talent for description, and he makes the reader feel as if alongside the main characters as the stories play out. These stories detail racial discrimination and oppression in the Deep South during the 1930's. I particularly liked his story about a flood that led to blacks being conscripted at gunpoint to work on the levee (and a tragic shooting that followed), plus his story about a planned hunger march that went against the wishes of the local (racist) government. Each story attacks southern racial injustice in a concise and powerful manner.

Two years after this book was published, Wright burst into fame with NATIVE SON, and he followed a few years later with BLACK BOY and THE OUTSIDER. This collection of short stories isn't Wright's best work, but it demonstrates the author's budding talent.
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Format: Hardcover
The Library of America consistently produces wonderful volumes, and Richard Wright's "Early Works" is a strong member of the set. As I worked my way through this volume, I found myself re-thinking questions I have put aside for a while, challenging attitudes that I have acquired as part of our zeitgeist. I did not find that much of interest in "Lawd Today!" and "Uncle Tom's Children," the first two selections in the volume. Perhaps I will take another look at them in the future. However, "Native Son" was a revelation to me, and I found it amazing.
As a student of Mississippi literature, as well as a native Mississippian, I am surprised that I had not read "Native Son" before. I wonder what response Wright might expect me (a white Mississippian) to have to his work. The answer is not as simple as one might think. Growing up in Mississippi, I worked as a dishwasher. I ran errands for people who looked down on me and wanted me to act stupid and grateful. I felt the harsh sting of minor capitalists zealously defending their tiny empires. Like Wright, I grew up in a single-parent household with extremely limited resources. Like Wright, I never had a feeling that "the system" wanted to do anything but keep me in my place. Like Wright, I looked around to see that my people were limited by their ignorance and fear. For all of our differences, white and black Mississippians have far more in common than most people want to admit. It is part of what makes us such a fertile field for literature.
The easy response for a white person, Mississippian or not, is simply to be reactionary, to allow "Native Son" to confirm easy stereotypes.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Required reading in my African American Lit class. Wright is a rich storyteller and the imagery he uses is interesting and also disturbing. I don't always keep the books I have read after my Lit class is over, but this will be one that I do.
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Format: Paperback
Perhaps nothing was more appropriate about this restored text than placing "The Ethics of Jim Crow" in its rightful place at the front of this short story collection. Richard Wright used the brief autobiographical essay as a device to state that the short stories included in this set are not far from the truth. The racism during his time period was brutal. These short stories are meant to be emblematic of the brutality of the period.

The set begins with the short story "Big Boy Leaves Home". To many readers, this may seem to resemble "Native Son" and could be thought of as an early draft. The story finds an African-American adolescent forced to leave home in order to save his life after a local white man is killed at the river. "Down by the Riverside" takes place during a flood. To save his pregnant wife, who has taken ill, the main character steals a boat. This story may be the most compelling in the set because of a choice the main character is forced to make. To honestly decide what he/she might do under the circumstances, the reader must look deep into his/her soul.

"Long Black Song" explores the sexual exploitation that African-American endured during this period. Like so many other characters in Wright's stories, one senses that the main character is trapped in a situation in which she is destined to fail. As the story progresses, the greed of exploiters puts even more people in "no win" situations.

"Fire and Cloud" and "Bright Morning Star" show Wright to be far from timid in his leftist leanings. The first story involves a community choice, while the second is more of an individual choice. Because the plots of these short stories follow a similar path to failure, Wright hardly seems to be endorsing communism.
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