Richard Wright Letters

February 26, 2008

The Beinecke Library has recently acquired a collection of fifty-three previously unpublished letters from Richard Wright to Margaret Ellen Barnes of Oberlin, Ohio. The letters date from May 1938 to March 1939, during which time Wright was living in New York and writing Native Son and Margaret Ellen Barnes, daughter of Margaret Barnes, editor of the Ohio Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, was an aspiring writer–Barnes later became an officer in the U.S. Army.

The correspondence begins with a reply to an unsolicited letter from the young Ms. Barnes and ends the following spring with the latest news and terms of familiarity. In between, letters document their growing friendship and reveal Wright’s warmth and generosity in a supportive role with Barnes, from sharing his own experiences to inquiring about and commenting on Barnes literary work and life, making reading and writing recommendations, and offering help. Letters detail Wright’s progress on Native Son and touch on such subjects as literature and publishing, books he is reading, his identity as a writer and African-American, Chicago and Harlem, his social life and politics, Communism, WWII, and his health and financial concerns. The letters are accompanied by clippings and Guggenheim fellowship application material, including plans for work on Native Son.

A complete record of the collection of letters is available in Orbis, the Yale Library catalog: Richard Wright Letters to Margaret Ellen Barnes. Related materials at the Beinecke Library include the Richard Wright Papers JWJ MSS 3. (MF)
Image: Photograph of Richard Wright (call number: JWJ Zan5 +2 v. 28).