Julia Wright speaks about father’s works

Published 12:20 am Friday, February 22, 2008

NATCHEZ — Julia Wright, daughter of Natchez native author Richard Wright, spoke of the hope and despair found not just in her father’s books but his life Thursday at the keynote address for the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.

Wright’s speech was about two elements, which she said were great themes in her father’s literature. The first is the ability to move from pain to forgiveness.

She first quoted Mahatma Gandhi who said it takes great strength to be able to forgive.

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She spoke of an incident, which will be appearing in her upcoming memoir: “Richard Wright, Daughter of a Native Son.”

She said one of her earliest memories is of a time when her maternal grandmother was washing her hair, but to Wright, it felt like her grandmother was trying to rip her hair out.

Wright said it upset her that her grandmother was hurting her so badly and she begged her to stop.

“I scream ‘No, no, grandma, it hurts,’ but she does not listen, she continues, it’s so painful,” Wright said.

Later in life, Wright learned that her grandmother was a Jew from Poland and had experienced extreme forms of hatred in the times of the Holocaust.

Wright said her grandmother was illiterate and emotionally illiterate and her way of channeling her own personal pain was to hurt her granddaughter.

With this understanding, Wright said she was able to forgive her grandmother and from this came a new emotion.

“Behind forgiveness, there flows an emotion called hope,” Wright said.

She said she wanted to examine in her speech why hope is so important and why it’s so important in the work of her father.

She said it’s so important because in the midst of despair and pain, people need to focus on their ability to hope.

“Hope unites us all,” she said. “It’s no question of color anymore. We are all capable of despair. We are all capable of hope.”

In a world of war and racism, she said, people need to not be consumed by the bad but instead focus on hope.

She said her father’s story is so full of despair, yet he was such a hopeful man.

“Richard Wright’s story is not an American success story.

“It’s full of pain, the worst kind of pain,” Wright said. “Because Richard was willing to go down to the bottom of his blues, he was able to push the floor of despair and shove himself back to the surface of the inky waters and breathe and hope.”

Wright compared her father and his writings to him opening Pandora’s Box.

“Richard reminds me of the Pandora legend,” she said. “He asks forbidden questions, unravels secret codes of racism, brings the ghost out of the box; and it’s difficult and threatening at the bottom of the box.”

She reminded the audience of what was left in Pandora’s Box after the bad things escaped: hope.

“The works of my father are threaded with hope,” she said.

After Wright’s speech on despair and hope, Mayor Phillip West asked all descendants of Richard Wright in the room to come up front. Between 20 and 30 people gathered before the podium.

“I as mayor of the city of Natchez, on behalf of the city of Natchez, I do proclaim Feb. 21, 2008, as Richard Wright’s day in Natchez, Miss.,” West said.

He also presented the Wright family a key to the city.

The NLCC continues through Sunday.