UMC Links

100 Years of Richard Wright

Mar. 30, 2009 – The University of Utah is honored to present “100 Years of Richard Wright: The Man, His Work and His Legacy” a three-day conference devoted to the examination of the work of the acclaimed writer who has been identified as “the most influential African American novelist that ever lived.” Wright’s daughter, Julia Wright, writer and civil rights advocate, will give the opening keynote address titled, “A Hurricane Called Bigger.”

The conference will be held April 2 – 5, 2009 on the campus of the University of Utah. For a complete schedule of conference events visit

“It is a privilege for the University of Utah to join with such a prestigious team of scholars to host this significant event,” notes Octavio Villalpando, associate vice president, Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Utah. “Wright is arguably one of the greatest writers of all time and has contributed much to our understanding of the devastation of racism and in turn the strength and resilience of African Americans. The conference provides the opportunity to learn about this great writer and his work.”

Richard Wright was born in Mississippi in 1908 and survived a difficult childhood in the segregated South, where he learned to live by what he called “the ethics of Jim Crow.” Mostly self-educated, he moved to Memphis as a young man and then to Chicago. Later in his life he lived in Europe. His first published novel, Native Son, was released in 1940. The autobiographical novel, Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth, followed in 1945 and a collection of stories, Uncle Tom’s Children, was published in 1947. Many works followed; however those three endure as American classics and are widely read and studied, even today. Considered powerful and often controversial, his works focus on issues of race and racism.

In addition to the keynote address by Julia Wright, Jerry W. Ward, Visiting Fellow Tanner Humanities Scholar, Dillard University, will present a series of lectures based on the three phases of Richard Wright’s life and work: “Notes on Southern Exposure,” “On Urbanization and Consequences” and “Readings of International Cultures and Politics.” Ward is a founder of the Richard Wright Circle and served as co-editor of the Richard Wright Newsletter. Other scholars and writers making presentations at the conference are Wright biographers Virginia Whatley Smith, University of Alabama; Maryemma Graham, University of Kansas and Robert Butler, Canisius College. Butler is also conducting a workshop for high school teachers. Haiku scholars Yoshinobu Hakutani, Kent State and Toru Kiuchi, Japan, who recently translated and published more than five hundred of Wright’s haiku poems, are also on the program. Four major contemporary African American fiction writers will deliver various keynotes throughout the symposium including Jeffery Renard Allen, Randall Kenan, William Henry Lewis and PENN-Faulkner award winner and McArthur Fellow John Edgar Wideman, who will deliver the closing banquet keynote on Saturday April, 5 at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Two major exhibits will be mounted on campus to complement the symposium: Howard Rambsy’s “The Transmission of Richard Wright’s Black Boy” will be in the Marriott Library, third floor, April 1-30 and “12 Million Black Voices,” a photo exhibit featuring reproductions of the images Wright included in his collection of essays that shares the same title, will be in the Carolyn Tanner Irish Building lobby, April 1-30. The original photographs are housed in the Library of Congress.

The significance of this conference cannot be overstated according to Gloria L. Cronin, Professor of English, Brigham Young University, and conference program co-chair. “It will be the third international conference on African American literature and culture to meet in Utah. The second conference, ‘Looking Back with Pleasure II,’ brought hundreds of scholars to Salt Lake City. The entire community celebrated 100 years of contributions by African Americans in art, literature, music and dance. It was honored by the SLC Business and Convention Bureau as one of Utah’s most successful events in 2000. This year’s conference continues to receive kudos. It will be included in the global celebration of Richard Wright’s centennial anniversary, along with those in France and Japan. It is a major asset for Utah, our universities and our students.”

Co-sponsors of “100 Years of Richard Wright: The Man, His Work, and His Legacy” include American Express, Tanner Humanities Center, American Literature Association, Tate’s Consulting Service, African American Literature and Culture Society and the Utah Humanities Council. Co-sponsors from the University of Utah include: the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, the College of Humanities, the Office of the Associate Vice President for Equity and Diversity, the ethnic studies program and the Department of English.

For more information about the conference visit: or call (801) 587-2989.