Richard Wright, “Blueprint for Negro Writing” for February 3, 2009

In “Blueprint for Negro Writing” Richard Wright outlined what he saw as the imperative role of black writing in the development of the status of blacks in the United States.  He argued that, historically, black writing had spent too much energy arguing for the humanity of the black race and not enough on articulating  useful directions for the collective consciousness of black masses.  Openly critical of the works that defined the Harlem Renaissance, Wright comments:

“Rarely was the best of this writing addressed to the Negro himself, his needs, his sufferings, his aspirations.  Through misdirection, Negro writers have been far better to others than they have been to themselves.  And the mere recognition of this places the whole question of Negro writing in a new light and raises a doubt as to the validity of its present direction.”  

Characterizing the history of “Negro writing” as one which had created two distinct cultures, that of the unrecognized black masses and that of an elite, DuBoisian “talented tenth” class, his primer envisioned a literature that would take its cue from the black workers’ movement and incorporate a Marxian attitude to serve black interests beyond the limited ones of the black bourgeoisie.  He specifies the contending forces within black communities:

“One would have thought that Negro writers in the last century of striving at expression would have continued and deepened this folk tradition, would have tried to create a more intimate and yet a more profoundly social system of artistic communication between them and their people.  But the illusion that they could escape through individual achievement the harsh lot of their race swung Negro writers away from any such path…Today the question is:  Shall Negro writing be for the Negro masses, moulding the lives and consciousness of those masses toward new goals, or shall it continue begging the question of the Negroes’ humanity?”

Wright sought a more inclusive and egalitarian mode of cultural production that would utilize the creative resources from all classes of African Americans and result in broader change in both the material and social conditions of African Americans.  Though explicitly advancing a Marxist philosophy, at its heart, Wright himself seemed to remain ideologically loyal to American democratic idealism.  Wright asserts that the view African American writers needed to embrace was one “of society as something becoming rather than as something fixed and admired.”  Only in this way, reasoned Wright, would African American writers break away from the impulse to demonstrate their equality through artistry, an impulse which had contributed to the survival of the status quo by nominally elevating the black middle class, while changing little in the social, political, and economic reality of the larger black underclass.  Wright felt as though the potential for social change was being squandered by the failure of the African American artistic community to link the future of the black masses to their own.

 

Richard Wright

Richard Wright

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15 responses to “Richard Wright, “Blueprint for Negro Writing” for February 3, 2009

  1. Resa I.

    Wright talks about two different cultures, the unrecognized Negroes and the bourgeoisie Negroes. He then poses the question, “Shall Negro writing be for the Negro masses, molding the lives and consciousness of those masses toward new goals, or shall it continue begging the question of the Negroes’ humanity?”

    My question is, why can’t the Negro writing be for all? Recognized, unrecognized, high class, low class, etc. Why do we have to point out who is writing it for who and why?

  2. Whitney Harmon

    Richard Wright discusses the serious responsibility of the Negro Writer to fairly depict their people. “He is being called on to do nothing less than to create values by which his race is to struggle, live and die” (Pg. 102).

    I guess I have multiple questions that are all related,why do we hold each author to the responsibility to represent their whole race? Also is this a common thing, does our society do this to women authors or other minorities? That is a big responsibility to represent that many different people and is that the reason that many people felt that African American Literature was just propaganda? Is that what our society forced it to be or to look like?

  3. Tom C

    Richard Wright talks about the necessity for people to be treated fairly when being written about. He also says that white writers and black writers need to put aside their differences and he further illustrates that “things cannot be gained by Negro writers if their present mode of isolated writing and living continues.
    My question is why does he say Negro life can be approached from a thousand angles and not just say life?

  4. kristina long

    Wright believes in a certian consciousness of resposiblitiy that Negros have when writing. “In order to do justice to his subject mattter, in order to depict Negro life in all of its manifold and intricate relationships, a deep imformed, and complex consciousness in necessary…” no matter which path the writer chooses there needs to be awarness of the outcomes

    My question is, why does there have to be so much focus and pressure on what other people may think of someones work of art? Isn’t it a form of expression? I understand that writing is a means to inspire but is it really neccesary for someone to change what they choose to write? Regardless others should choose their way of life based on their beliefs.

  5. Tyler Nakatsu

    In Wright’s essay, he focuses on the importance of the folklore of the Negro people. He states that “it was – in a folklore molded out of rigorious and inhuman conditions of life that the Negro achieved his most indigenous and complete expression.”

    Is it through such seemingly petty discourse that truely imbodies the base culture of such a diverse people? Folklore does function as a vessel to exchange counter discourse beliefs, however doesn’t the white population among themselves share a like folklore only against the Negro? Thus cancelling or debunking the already oppressed Negro folklore?

  6. Leslie Lambert

    Similar to Kristina, I was concerned about the authenticity of the writing if the writer is concerned with censoring themselves during the creative process to fit into “labeled” category of writing.

    Write states, “In order to do justice to his subject matter, in order to depict Negro life in all of its manifold and intricate relationships, a deep informed, and complex consciousness in necessary…”

    Is it not possible for a black writer to write something that is traditionally seen as white, or vise versa? Isn’t art art? It should be judged on the creditability of material and not solely on the author.

  7. David Hagen

    Wright discusses what he sees as a need for the Negro writer to perpetuate the narrative of their culture, to redevelop it through written word as it had been done with oral storytelling. He states, “…Negro writers must have in their consciousness the foreshortened picture of the whole, nourishing culture from which they were torn in Africa, and of the long, complex (and for the most part), unconscious) struggle to regain in some form and under alien conditions of life a whole culture again” (104).

    My question is why should the Negro writer limit his writing to only that which displays the culture of his people. Why should he not simply write whatever it is that is in him, regardless of whether or not it exemplifies the struggle of his people? It seems to me that focusing solely on differences rather than similarities would be counterproductive to an extent in terms of trying to create an all-encompassing American literature canon.

  8. Louis Han

    Wright writes about how African American writers have, most of the time, been benefiting others with their writing instead for themselves. Two cultures have been created separating the blacks within their own group, one being the unrecognized blacks and the other being the elite. This separation continues the struggle for African Americans in the aspiration for racial equality in the U.S.

    My question is how African American writers of today’s society can close the gap, through their writing, between the two cultures that were created by their predecessors?

  9. Lynette M

    The title of Richard Wright’s essay is extremely fitting. He gives his ideal, or “Blueprint”, of how an African American writer should write. He is very specific, and has a clear distain for the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
    There were several points he makes that raised questions, but the one that has stood out to me is found his idea of perspective.
    He says that, “…a Negro writer must learn to view the life of a Negro living in New York’s Harlem or Chicago’s South Side….” P104
    My question is: is it fair, taking into consideration the historical context, to expect all African American writers to share the same perspective? What kind of advantage, or hindrance would that give the African American writers?

  10. Troy Gabriel Alpait

    Within the passage “Blueprint for Negro Writing” Richard Wright has this critical view of emphasizing that it is understood that black writers note and compose works that deal with the black struggles of the past, but he says that they should change focus and write about things that would liberate this view of consciousness and give blacks a sense of direction on where to go and how to strive for equality. It says within the article, “Wright asserts that the view [that] African American writers needed to embrace was one ‘of society as something becoming rather than as something fixed and admired.’”
    Yeah I understand the motives behind what Write is trying to accomplish. Write wants black writers to stop focusing on what is in the pass and start writing on what is now and what is progress, that way it creates a social construct of “equality for blackness.” But my problem is it has been often said that “you don’t really know yourself if you don’t know nobody else.” And another saying which goes, “Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it.” With this said, the reason I’m stating these two paraphrased quotes of concept is because Why stop writing of what has happened in the past to the struggles of blacks when I believe it’s what a society like our country needs most? In a time where I believe our country has been uprooted from its values and beliefs and has totally forgotten to where it has come from to the progress of where it is today and the election of the first African American I believe that it is imperative and crucial that Black writers keep framing the past by continually creating works of art that portrays what their past looks like. In this way they will only gain a sense of what their struggles were like in the past so that they may gain motivation for the future generation to have a sense of direction of the future. Also in this way will they feel a sense that “social change” has really occurred in the way that black writers really had a big part as they connected the link from their past to what it now a social progress.

  11. Eric Irvin

    Wright examines the characterized history about the “Negro Writing” as a culture, not one but two. Also mentioning how the African American community should realize and promote the black masses and elite, and in doing so, bringing to light the struggles of the middle and lower class. Furthermore without this reorganization, the efforts for a potential social change are at a lost. How can we promote and support if the wrong ideology is constantly being brought to our attention? (As in telling African Americans this isn’t standard)

  12. Andrew Frei

    Wright, referencing Lenin, writes “oppressed minorities often reflect the techniques of the bourgeoisie more brilliantly than some sections of the bourgeoisie themselves”. I wish he had gone farther with this statement. What are some of the ways that African Americans unwittingly oppressed themselves in trying to emulate or pander to the white majority? Or what does this quote mean to you?

  13. carlos ellerbe.jones

    oh my god many of these comment are fundamentally ‘out of touch’. I am sorry im reading them in two thousand eleven. The aa or the ‘negro’ hasn’t come a long enough way in literature, academia, or writing to understand wright and were he was comimg from. Know the author. This is one reason why many of his contemporaries could not trust elites and academics to lead the movement.

  14. monika

    richard wright has played a vital role in the development of negro writing …….in this prose piece he made a extraordinary sample dish for negro’s brain kitchen…… with all the garnishing items of perspective, cultural diffrences , african folklore, the life of bourgeoisie and vice versa not

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