Richard Wright’s WPA Writings from the Chicago Period

While on the WPA Richard Wright often sought advice from Vivian G. Harsh, librarian at the Hall Branch Library.

While on the WPA, Richard Wright often sought advice from librarian Vivian G. Harsh.

Previously published only in scholarly journals, Richard Wright’s WPA writings from his Chicago period are here for the first time made available to the public, as was intended by this government-sponsored program.

These ten writings were published in The Southern Quarterly following the 2009 Centenary Celebration of Richard Wright’s birthday in Natchez, Mississippi, which I attended. There are essays on the Chicago Urban League, hotels, and tourist sites like the White City amusement park, located on the South Side but prohibited to blacks.

Read the ten writings and an introduction by clicking: DolinarBrian_SouthernQuarterly_Winter2009_v46n2

Wright was most likely the first African American writer to work on the WPA in Illinois. The essay “Ethnographical Aspects of Chicago’s Black Belt” is dated December 11, 1935.

"Ethnographical Aspects of Chicago's Black Belt"

“Ethnographical Aspects of Chicago’s Black Belt”

For those who appreciate the original documents I am also including a copy of Wright’s essay about Washington Park. Read it here:          Richard Wright_Washington Park

The essay is dated March 27 and, although the year is not indicated, it was probably written in 1937. Washington Park, which still exists on Chicago’s South Side, was the place where Communists marched for the Scottsboro boys, Garveyites held parades in elaborate costumes, and Hammurabi Robb gave soapbox speeches about black history. As Wright wrote:

“Here on summer afternoons and evenings, the tourist may hear speeches and debates on any conceivable topic, by speakers representing every conceivable opinion. This is a Chicago open forum.”

I found these writings at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, and Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection in Chicago.



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