Wright’s daughter to give NLCC keynote address

Published 8:59 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2008

“A Father’s Law” was sitting in the typewriter, unfinished and unpublished when Julia Wright found it. The incomplete novel was the last book famed author Richard Wright worked on before his death.

After discovering the book, Richard’s daughter Julia read it and loved it. It would be almost 50 years before the rest of the world had a chance to do the same.

“I was hypnotized by the book,” she said. “It scared me, but it was also full of hope.”

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After Richard’s death, several of his unpublished works found their way into bookstores, but not this one. After the passing of Richard’s wife, Julia became the executor of his estate and took it upon herself to get “A Father’s Law” published.

“All those years, no one mentioned the book,” she said. “But when mother passed and I realized that his centennial was here, I realized that will be his present, that will be his gift.”

Julia took the book to her publisher, but was met with resistance. It seemed the literary world had doubts about the Natchez native’s last work.

“No one saw it my way,” Julia said. “They kept asking, ‘Are you sure you want to publish this?’ But I was persistent and wrote a strong letter about getting it published.”

Julia’s letter asked a simple question. Don’t you want to know what goes through the mind of great authors when they lay dying? After reading the letter, the publisher said yes and asked Julia to turn her letter into the book’s introduction.

In January of this year, “A Father’s Law” hit bookshelves worldwide and to Julia’s surprise, found its way onto several best-seller lists. While browsing one of Paris’ largest bookstores, something familiar in the best-sellers section caught Julia’s eye.

“It was the book,” she said. “It was No. 17 out of 20 on the best selling list. I came back last week and it was No. 13.”

Julia’s gift to her father has become one of the most popular books in the city that he called home. After discovering the novel in the Paris bookstore, she rushed out, bought a camera and took photographs of the book sitting on the shelf. Julia will bring those photos to Natchez this week as she and the rest of the literary world celebrate her father’s centennial.

“I will, of course, bring the photos,” she said. “I want to say, ‘In France, this book is going up.’”

Julia will help Natchez celebrate the life of its “native son” when she serves as keynote speaker at this year’s Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration. The 19th annual event will focus on Wright, his works and his influence on literature.

“This is a very, very rich conference with five days of programming,” NLCC co-chair Carolyn Vance Smith said. “Wright is so important to Natchez. There are plenty of people saying that he is to Natchez what Faulkner is to Oxford.”

The conference will begin this evening with a screening of “Richard Wright: Black Boy,” a documentary of the author’s life. The celebration will offer close to 30 events that focus on Wright’s life and will conclude Sunday.

As Julia packed for her journey from Paris to Natchez, she said she was looking forward to returning to the place that served as her father’s inspiration.

“We can’t really call Natchez home,” she said. “But in a strange way, it’s coming back to his source of inspiration, source of terror, source of hunger all mingled together.”

Tickets to the events are free of charge, except for events where meals are served. There is also a charge for the Richard Wright Ramble, a guided tour of sites around Natchez related to the Wright family and the Natchez Little Theatre’s production of “Native Son.”

“We tried to get funding to carry as much of the event as possible for free,” Smith said. “We want everyone to have a chance to experience this. It is an enormous feather in Natchez’s cap to claim Richard Wright as our native son.”

For ticket information, contact the NLCC at 601-446-1289 or 866-296-6522.