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Chapter 19 - Black Chicago: Richard Wright’s South Side

from Part IV - A City of Neighborhoods: The Great Depression, Sociology, and the Black Chicago Renaissance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2021

Frederik Byrn Køhlert
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

As Richard Wright rose to literary prominence in the 1940s, his became an authoritative voice for a white American audience minimally exposed to Black Chicago specifically and Black urban life more generally. In works like Native Son and 12 Million Black Voices, written after he left Chicago, Wright presents a consistently grim picture of the South Side as a place of suffering and of its residents as impoverished victims of ecological forces. Grounded in the theories of the Chicago School of Sociology, Wright’s prose creates an imaginative geography of “the ghetto” as a blighted, dangerous space that holds sway over the American cultural landscape for decades. With photographic evidence from the files of the Farm Security Administration, Nash illustrates both what Wright omitted from his representation of the South Side and how he manipulated images that he did include. He also discusses the presentation of Chicago in Wright’s posthumously published first novel, Lawd Today!, arguing that the picture Wright created of the South Side while he still resided there was both more nuanced and balanced than those he penned from a distance.

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Chicago
A Literary History
, pp. 269 - 283
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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