The revised preface to I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer, my novel coming out on August 22, 2023.
In 1957's Pagan Spain, the second of three travel books he wrote, Richard Wright became his own harshest critic. He had done enough to cultivate a line of them in the decade: wrecking his family and his cinematic adaptation of his classic novel-1941’s Native Son, by turning it into a political apologia for sexual murder. Yet seeing example after example of the church’s role with the Franco dictatorship to get young girls, particularly a slave auction in a simulacrum of the avant-garde friendly coffee shops he loved for so long in Europe. Wright the macho man collapses. “I had done a quick laundering job on the moral notions of my brain and the moral feelings in my body,” he writes. From there, Spain evolves from a deeply problematic great man’s travelogue to something that becomes a firm defense of women’s rights and the rights of sex workers. He would later be known for his near evangelizing on the subject, most famously in his speech at the Bandung conference where he said, “If Black women aren’t free, we aren’t free.”
The response, or lack thereof, by his brothers, was genuinely pathetic (particularly from Chester Himes and-yes, it was 1957-James Baldwin). The apathy of the women in his life was genuinely understandable; especially Simone De Beauvoir who wrote letters to his estranged wife, and Lorraine Hansberry, who pilloried the overwritten artless horrorcore of 1953’s The Outsider (in Freedom magazine). They had invested so much in him only to see him flatten his art into something ugly and didn’t have time to believe he was processing his demons. They each loved him because they thought he was better, and they felt badly conned.
Beset by cancer and the slow poisoning of his medicine by FBI operatives, his response was a manuscript called A Father’s Law, a half-finished novel that makes me openly weep to this day. It is a murder story, but with the protagonist being a cop, Rudolph “Ruddy” Turner, and black Chicago, the community the agit-prop-star once said had no sense of love or life. Struggling with a murder case and a son, Tommy, who is a college pop nihilist twerp, Ruddy goes through the city to solve the crime; and you can see Wright’s contrasting intent, a Balzacian panoramic ode to the black people he struggled with so…