Saturday, January 07, 2006


Prodigal Son

Today's Guardian has some fascinating revelations about Native Son author Richard Wright's final novel that remains unpublished:

Island of Hallucination, begun in 1958, represented a late departure for Wright: it was the first time he had written about Paris, his home for the past 11 years. Dispatching a completed draft to his agent, Paul Reynolds, at the beginning of 1959, he sounded pessimistic about its chances: "I can readily think of a hundred reasons why Americans won't like this book. But the book is true. Everything in the book happened, but I've twisted characters so that people won't recognise them."....

After his death, Ellen permitted a small section to be printed in an anthology, but then withdrew the manuscript. It now sits among the Richard Wright papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale. For many years, Wright scholars were not permitted to read it. One biographer, Addison Gayle, stated in a footnote in his book, Ordeal of a Native Son, that his request to read Island of Hallucination "was denied".

Ellen Wright died last year, at 92. Not long before, a photocopy of Island of Hallucination, more than 500 pages in Wright's typescript, came into my hands, by an unexpected route: it was lent to me by Richard Gibson, whose presence in the novel is thought to have been behind its suppression.
Despite the Wright estate's earlier fear of legal troubles over the Gibson-inspired character in the book, apparently Gibson himself thinks the book should be published -- so there may be some hope for it seeing the light of day at last.

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