cover image Thunder on the Stage: The Dramatic Vision of Richard Wright

Thunder on the Stage: The Dramatic Vision of Richard Wright

Bruce Allen Dick. Univ. of Illinois, $27.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-0-252-08779-0

Dick (A Poet’s Truth), an English professor at Appalachian State University, delivers a meticulous study of novelist Richard Wright’s theatrical projects and influences. Examining plays that inspired Wright’s fiction, Dick contends that the interracial sexual politics of Shakespeare’s Othello echo in Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son. According to Dick, Wright was changed by his friendships with such noted playwrights as Langston Hughes, whom Dick credits with teaching Wright “more about African American theater” than “any other writer,” and Jean-Paul Sartre, whose experimentation with different artistic mediums inspired Wright to do the same. Dick details Native Son’s tumultuous path to Broadway, noting that Wright butted heads with playwright Paul Green (who assisted Wright in adapting the novel to the stage) over “how to portray Bigger Thomas’s psychological motivation.” Dick’s thorough biographical research unearths the overlooked role theater played in Wright’s life and work, but some of the evidence comes across as circumstantial. For instance, Dick posits that Wright’s 1938 short story collection Uncle Tom’s Children may have drawn inspiration from the stage adaptation of Erskine Caldwell’s novel Tobacco Road based on the fact that Wright saw the play in 1935 and both present a “grim portrait of regional agrarian life.” Still, Wright scholars will appreciate the fresh angle on the oft-studied writer. (Mar.)