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Richard Wright at the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore

Thursday, November 28th, 2019

Richard Wright at the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore

How much are we willing to risk for freedom?  I say let us risk everything. 
~Richard Wright

Richard Wright died at a Paris clinic on November 28, 1960.  He was 52 years old.

Richard Wright by Gordon Parks 1943 _ public domainRichard Wright
1943 portrait by Gordon Parks
Public Domain

His granddaughter, Ellen Wright-Hervé, is passionately researching his life with the intent  to pass his legacy on to her children - his great-grandchildren - Maxime and Mathilde Hervé.  She is rallying the Paris community around his work and his memory.  

On November 7, Wright-Hervé brought together an impressive crowd at Penelope Fletcher's Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore to celebrate Wright's work and to talk about what it means to them. She named the event "Which Richard Wright Are You?"

Mathilde Hervé (left) and Flier for Richard Wright Commemorative Event
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The Audience
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Wright-Hervé and author Jake Lamar welcomed the crowd and Lamar presented the evening's agenda, which consisted of a keynote presentation, readings from Wright’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and the expression of personal anecdotes about how Wright's life and work inspired selected speakers.   He animated the evening's proceedings, introducing each speaker in turn.

 Ellen Wright-Hervé
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The presenters for the evening were :

- Jake Lamar
- Ellen Wright-Hervé
- Wendy Johnson
- Julia Browne
- Pap N’Diaye
- Monique Y. Wells
- Shirley Dauger
- Zachary Miller
- Gwen Sampé and Aldridge Hansberry
- Malik Crumpler
- Ricki Stevenson
- Silver Wainhouse

Professor Pap N'Diaye of Sciences Po spoke about Black Power, Wright's book about his visit to the Gold Coast (Ghana) in June - August 1953. Monique Y. Wells read excerpts from Wright's speech at the 1956 Congress of Negro Writers and Artists. Zachary Miller read an excerpt from Wright's short story "The Man Who Lived Underground."  Jake Lamar read Wright's poem "Between the World and Me." Malik Crumpler passed out numbered slips of paper containing  Wright's haikus to the audience and had individuals read their haiku when he called out their number.

Speakers collage - Pap N'Diaye_Jake Lamar_Monique Y. Wells
Left: Pap N'Diaye - Image courtesy of Ellen Wright-Hervé
Upper right: Jake Lamar
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Lower right: Monique Y. Wells - Image courtesy of Julia Browne

Musical interludes included a song by Shirley Dauger and Gwen Sampé's musical interpretation of Wright's haiku accompanied by flutist Aldridge Hansberry.

Flutist Aldridge HanberryFlutist Aldridge Hanberry
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Wendy Johnson spoke poignantly of her relationship with Wright's daughter, Julia (Ellen Wright-Hervé's mother).  Julia Browne, Ricki Stevenson, and Silver Wainhouse spoke of how Wright's life and work has directly or indirectly influenced their lives.

Classic Wright publications were prominently displayed for passersby to see.

Book display collageBooks on display
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It is Wright-Hervé's fervent wish that this event be a catalyst for future gatherings to honor her grandfather, particularly because 2020 will mark the 80th anniversary of the publication of Native Son and the 60th anniversary of Richard Wright’s death.  She also hopes that such events will include tributes to other prominent African American expatriates such as James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney.