Richard Wright's last novel, thought to be a roman à clef about African-American exiles in Paris, was never published. James Campbell uncovers the real story behind the controversial manuscript
In the spring of 1988, I went to Paris to meet Ellen Wright, the widow of the American novelist Richard Wright, at her home in the heart of St-Germain des Prés. The purpose of the visit was to discuss James Baldwin, about whom I was writing a book and with whom Richard Wright had had a fractious, father-and-son relationship.
The Wrights had moved from New York to Paris in 1947, and Baldwin, 14 years Wright's junior, arrived the following year. Whereas Wright was the author of several outstanding books, including the novel Native Son and the memoir Black Boy, the story of his gruelling Mississippi childhood, Baldwin was practically unpublished.
One of the first things he turned his mind to, on settling in Paris, was an essay ostensibly about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin, which ended by attacking the continuation of "protest" fiction in contemporary black literature. The prime example of the sterility cited by Baldwin was Native Son. Wright never forgave him.