Making the Wright Connection
A National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Virtual Summer Institute on the works of Richard Wright that took place July 11-24, 2010 at the University of Kansas.
Why Study Richard Wright?
In the February 9, 2009 issue of The Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley called Black Boy (1945), an “essential American document.” Rereading it for the first times in decades renewed his appreciation for the book. That is what good literature does for us: it continues to have relevance and power. Our appreciation for it is renewed with each reading. But what makes Wright essential reading? How can we understand someone so driven by his own ambition and his desire to “fight with words,” that he could produce such provocative books that are more powerful today than when he first wrote them? “I wrote my guts into them,” Wright had said when asked about his first collection of short stories, Uncle Tom’s Children (1938). He wanted to capture the terror of the Mississippi of his birth.
It was his second book, however, that made him a household name. “The day Native Son  appeared, American culture was forever changed,” Irving Howe wrote in 1963. “It made impossible a repetition of the old lies. Wright’s novel brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear, and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture.” Despite their direct connection to contemporary concerns about literacy, tolerance and diversity, issues central to our current national dialogue and of particular importance in our schools, Wright’s works are conspicuously absent from many curricula and inconsistently taught at best. Certainly there has been renewed interest in Wright since the beginning of the centennial celebration in 2008, but there has been no opportunity for sustained professional development. Yardley’s choice of Black Boy for his column on neglected books is telling; he believes, just as we do, that Wright’s works are “must reads.” Wright lived in a pre-Civil Rights America; he confronted its racist violence and asks his readers to do the same through his texts. He left the South to seek freedom and a better life in the North. In some ways, he found that better life, but his search remained unfinished. Wright makes a connection to us in important ways that we will explore in our Institute. Uncle Tom’s Children, Black Boy, and Native Son also lend themselves to interdisciplinary learning and are equally adaptable for the use of new technologies, one of the Institute’s goals.
About the Institute
Dr. Graham is a Professor of English at Kansas University. Her inspiration for the Wright Connection Institute stems from her long-term professional and scholarly interest in Richard Wright’s work and her desire to consistently integrate her scholarly interests and teaching. Dr. Graham has previously directed several NEH Institutes, including an International Wright Conference in 1985, “Mississippi’s Native Son.” She also co-chaired the internationally significant Richard Wright Centennial Committee and coauthored Teaching African American Literature: Theory and Practice. Her numerous other publications include The House Where My Soul Lives: The Life of Margaret Walker and the Richard Wright Newsletter.
Howard Rambsy II
Dr. Howard Rambsy II is an Assistant Professor of English at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Dr. Rambsy works closely with a charter school in East St. Louis, and he is particularly qualified to address the benefits of teaching Richard Wright in the secondary school classroom. Dr. Rambsy was the editor of the Paper on Language and Literature’s special edition on Richard Wright, and he is able to demonstrate the intersection of the visual and the literary with his innovative presentation, “Covering Black Boy: A Visual Literary History of Richard Wright’s Autobiography." His upcoming book is tentatively titled "The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry" and is scheduled for release December, 2010. More on Dr. Rambsy.
Jerry Ward Jr.
Dr. Jerry Ward is a Distinguished Scholar and Professor of English and World Studies at Dillard University in New Orleans. He is foremost a Richard Wright scholar. Dr. Ward ran a year-long Richard Wright reading program in Nanchez in 2007, and his most recently published book is the essential Richard Wright Encyclopedia. Dr. Ward has also published a number of important articles about Richard Wright, including “Everybody’s Protest Novel: The Era of Richard Wright.” Dr. Ward’s other academic interests include contemporary African American poetry and the artistic culture of New Orleans.
Saralynn Reece Hardy
Ms. Hardy is the director of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. Previously, she was the Director of Museums and Visual Arts at the National Endowment for the Arts, where she received a Distinguished Service Award. Ms. Hardy coauthored Kansas Murals: A Traveler’s Guide. Her interests include societal integration of art and the need for artistic experimentation in academic life.
Dr. Harris is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English and Comparative Literature Emerita at the University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill. She is a renowned author and scholar, has received numerous teaching awards, including the Award of Distinction for the College of Humanities from Ohio State University in 1994. Among her books are South of Tradition: Essays in African American Literature and her memoir Summer Snow: Reflections of a Black Daugher of the South. The Scary Mason-Dixon Line: African American Writers and the South, published in 1909, was designated by Choice Magazine as an “Outstanding Academic Title.”
Dr. Jelks is an Associate Professor of American Studies with a joint appointment in African and African American Studies at Kansas University. He holds appointments in History and Religious Studies, and he has published both scholarly and journalistic articles. His research and writing interests are in the area of African American Religious, Urban, and Civil Rights History. Last year Dr. Jelks wrote a widely-cited article titled “Obama, Wright, and Trinity”. He is in the final edits of a new book on Martin Luther King Jr.’s mentor titled The School Master of the Movement: Benjamin Elijah Mays, A Religious Rebel in the Jim Crow America. More on Dr. Jelks.
Joyce Ann Joyce
Dr. Joyce is a Professor of English at Temple University. Her influential book, Native Son: Richard Wright’s Art of Tragedy, places Wright within an essential literary tradition. Dr. Joyce was also the editor of Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas. She has received the American Book Award for Literary Criticism.
Madison Davis Lacy
Mr. Lacy is an Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas. He is also an award-winning film director, writer, and producer. His four Emmys include one for the critically-acclaimed documentary, Richard Wright: Black Boy. More on Mr. Lacy.
James A. Miller
Dr. James Miller is Professor of English and Chair of American Studies at The George Washington University. Dr. Miller authored the pedagogically essential Approaches to Teaching Wright’s Native Son. Dr. Miller also wrote “Bigger Thomas’s Quest for Voice and Audience in Native Son,” and acted as a Media Consultant on the BBC’s Richard Wright—Black Boy. More on Dr. Miller.
Dr. Hazel Rowley is the Australian scholar and author whose discovery of new materials prompted her to write the most recent Richard Wright biography, Richard Wright: The Life and Times. Dr. Rowley’s other widely-read and oft-translated books include the acclaimed Tête-à-Tête: The Tumultuous Lives of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Dr. Rowley’s other scholarship includes numerous articles, including “Richard Wright in Paris.” More on Dr. Rowley.
Dr. Williams is a Professor of African American Studies at Johnson County Community College. She is also the Executive Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Dr. Williams has extensive experience conducting teacher workshops, and she displays expertise on the topic of the short story cycle. Dr. Williams has extensive knowledge of Wright’s era due to her work and research on Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Her forthcoming book is entitled My Dear Boy: The Letters from Caroline “Carrie” Hughes Clark to her son Langston Hughes: 1928-1938.
Ms. Wright, the eldest daughter of Richard Wright, is a much sought-after writer and speaker. Ms. Wright’s upcoming memoir addresses the profound influence of her father as well as her diverse experiences as an African-American living in Paris.
Dr. Hakutani is a Distinguished Professor of English at Kent State University. He has published a variety of innovative articles about Richard Wright, including “The Poetics of Nature: Richard Wright’s Haiku, Zen, and Lacan” and “Richard Wright’s ‘African Primal Outlook upon Life.’” His most recent book is Richard Wright and Racial Discourse which followed several earlier books on Wright. Dr. Hakutani’s current project is on Richard Wright’s haiku. More on Dr. Hakutani.
Dr. JanMohamed is a Professor of English at the University of California: Berkeley. He is a leading scholar in the area of Minority Discourse. Dr. JanMohamed has published several important articles about Richard Wright, including, “Richard Wright as a Specular Border Intellectual: The Politics of Identification in Black Power,” “Negating the Negation as a Form of Affirmation in Minority Discourse: The Construction of Richard Wright as Subject.” He is also the author of The Death-Bound-Subject: Richard Wright’s Archeology of Death. More on Dr. JanMohamed.
Dr. Kiuchi is a Professor of English at Nihon University in Japan. He is the leading translator and scholar of Richard Wright’s work in Japan. Dr. Kiuchi has written widely about the Japanese response to African-American literature. He coauthored the book, The Critical Response in Japan to African American Writers and has published many articles on Wright in the Japanese Journal of Black Studies and elsewhere.
Dr. McDowell is the Alice Griffin Professor of Literary Studies at the University of Virginia. She is foremost an editor of African American literature projects, including The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. Dr. McDowell also founded the influential African-American Women Writers Series for Beacon Press. Her books include ‘The Changing Same’: Black Women's Literature, Criticism and Theory and Leaving Pipe Shop: Memories of Kin. More on Dr. McDowell.
Dr. Rampersad is the Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at Stanford University. Now retired, Dr. Rampersad is one of the nation’s leading biographers and scholars. He has edited numerous Richard Wright anthologies, including Richard Wright: A Collection of Critical Essays and the Library America Edition’s Richard Wright: Works. Dr. Rampersad’s most recent biography is Ralph Ellison: A Biography 1914-1994. More on Dr. Rampersad.
Dr. Singh is a Langston Hughes Professor of English at Ohio University. He has written extensively regarding new approaches to American Ethnic Literatures. Dr. Singh is the author of the article “Richard Wight: Beyond the Harlem Renaissance.” More on Dr. Singh.
Mr. Carroll is the CEO of Kansas City’s American Jazz Museum. Previously, Mr. Carroll was the Director of Education for the International Association for Jazz Education, where he was responsible for the international coordination of outreach and education programs.
Ms. Jackson is a textile artist and nationally-acclaimed quilter. She has developed a collection of “story quilts”, including “Richard Wright: A Portrait”. Ms. Jackson’s innovative work has been featured at numerous events and exhibits, including Julia Wright’s “Uncle Tom’s Grandchildren: How My Father Taught Me About Race”. Ms. Jackson utilizes her projects as a springboard to discuss visual literacy, and she has published several articles. More on Ms. Jackson.
David Taylor is writer and co-producer of the acclaimed documentary, Soul of the People: Writing the American Story, which was nominated for a 2010 Writers Guild Award. Taylor’s film highlights Wright’s influence as one of the major writers associated with the WPA in Chicago. More about Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Graves is a district and school improvement consultant, providing couture services to institutions addressing needs in curriculum, instruction, administrative coaching, professional development, and education policy. A former teacher in Baltimore County, MD, a teacher and administrator in Washington DC Public Schools, Kenyatta has also taught courses at George Mason University and the University of Maryland, College Park.
Mr. Harris is the English Department Chair at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, IL. He routinely teaches Wright in the classroom, and his students are able to do “live” research on Wright’s Chicago roots.
Ms. Lancaster has taught English at Chapel Hill High School and East Chapel Hill High School since 1979. She is a strong proponent of teaching Wright in the classroom. Ms. Lancaster has also participated in a variety of Summer Institutes, and she has received numerous “Educator of the Year” Awards.
Mr. O’Leary is an English Teacher at Cordozo High School in Washington DC. He gives regular College Board workshops, and he has actively taught and inspired others to teach African literature throughout his 40 year career.
Tonya T. Wells-Abari
Ms. Wells-Abari is a self-employed writer/editor in educational publishing. She has experience as a teachers’ instructional technology educator. Tonya also works as a freelance traveling studio teacher with On Location Education in New York.
Tara teaches English at Ardsley High School in New York, just outside of New York City. She is quite partial to all things medieval, although somehow she doesn’t teach medieval literature! In college, she studied theater, and tries to bring some of those experiences to her teaching.
Willi H. Boles, M.Ed. from South Carolina State University, is a twenty-seven year veteran English teacher of the public schools of South Carolina. She is currently an English II teacher of the Ridgeland High School, where she was chosen the 2008-09 RHS Teacher of the Year. She is the mother of three adult children. She is also the founder of JILLs (Jasper’s Intelligent, Lovely Ladies; Society), a club for the promotion of community service both within the school and town of Ridgeland, SC. She enjoys reading works of nonfiction and spending time with her family and friends. She looks forward to a study of theology upon retirement.
Dee received her B.A. in Speech Communications with a concentration in Rhetorical and Communication Theory from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2007, she received a Master of Education in Instructional Leadership with a specialization in Secondary English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently, Dee is an American Literature and Speech/Theatre Arts teacher at Social Justice High School in Chicago and expects a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Development in August, 2011 from Northeastern Illinois University.
Shelia Bonner is a native of Mississippi. She teaches 9th and 11th grade Language Arts at Ridgeland High School in Ridgeland, MS; in addition to teaching on the secondary level, she is an adjunct instructor at Holmes Community College, Ridgeland. Although teaching is her profession, Bonner admits that she is a lifelong learner. Presently, she is preparing to further her studies by applying to Ph.D. programs for the 2011 school year.
Raymond Brookter works in Laurel, MS where he is the high school's librarian. His lifelong interest in Richard Wright has yielded research on negro libraries in Saint Tammany Parish, Louisiana, and planning and fundraising for a read-in of Rite of Passage as part of Laurel High Leaps into Reading, coinciding with Black Heritage Month celebrations. Mr. Brookter has published several poems including the book Songs from the Sketchbook, and essays on topics ranging from Frederick Douglass to Wright. To raise monies for domestic abuse shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi, Mr. Brookter has produced shows featuring spoken-word artists and local musicians. His interests beyond Wright are the Black Panther Party, semiotics and the sign in relation to Black Culture in the U.S., and cultural preservation through archiving and digital storage.
Byron Brown is an educator in the Historical Claredndon School District One in Clarendon County, South Carolina. He is entering into his 18th year of teaching in the public school system. Brown taught English in Ghana, West Africa June 2009 (three weeks) in the Volta Region as a volunteer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Norfolk State University, Norfolk, Virginia, a Master's in Public Administration from Kentucky State University, Frankfort, KY and a Master's in Political Science from Western Michigan Universiy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is a native of Eutawville, South Carolina, where he resides with his wife Joyce and two children, Daniel and Hannah Brown.
Liz has been a Language Arts and ELL teacher at Gresham High School near Portland, Oregon since 2004. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Liz's first teaching job was at an international school in Bangalore, India. She enjoys living in Portland with three-year-old daughter Evelyn and husband Ben.
Becky Craft has just completed her twentieth year of teaching in the public schools in South Mississippi. She also works part time with her mom in her catering business. Becky has two daughters, Hannah and Hayley, and one granddaughter, Bella Kate. She enjoys spending her time with her daughters and granddaughter. In her free time, she enjoys reading good books.
Don’t let her fool you, she’s a firecracker. Marisol Cruz is the eldest of four girls. She is Northern-born and Southern-raised. She had the audacity to drive a 250-cc motorcycle from Harrisonburg, VA to Woodstock, IL. Keep your eye on her!
Bob was born in Tarrytown, New York, and lives in Connecticut. He has taught in parochial and public schools for almost thirty years, is married, and has three children. He attended the NEH Mark Twain workshop in Hartford last year, and is really looking forward to the Wright Connection.
Jeremy Dean is a doctoral candidate in English at The University of Texas at Austin. He will defend his dissertation, “MultipliCities: The Infrastructure of African American Literature, 1899-1996,” in the Summer of 2010. Richard Wright's Chicago is the focus of his third chapter. Next fall, he will be teaching 11th and 12th grade English at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin.
John teaches at North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School (NLCP) located in Chicago’s west side. He has taught Spanish there since 1998, chairs the Spanish department, is a founding member of a male student organization Minority Men Exceeding the Norm (MMEN) as well as coaches as an assistant on the baseball team.
Kristene Fields teaches 9-12th grade English at Jean Ribault Senior High School, a turnaround school in Jacksonville, Florida. During the summers she teaches Composition I and II at the local community college and tries to find time to clean her house while her two teenaged daughters are away for the summer. That alone should be a full time job.
David Fuder is a teacher at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, where he has taught eighth grade English for eight years. An educator who blends his passion for activism and awareness into his teaching, David centers much of his curriculum on the subject of identity while introducing students to novels that deal with issues of race, class, and gender to broaden students’ minds and challenge their thinking. He and another colleague founded and oversee Parker’s high school anti-genocide STAND chapter, which helps raise awareness about Darfur, and works with students to bring that message to the city of Chicago through protests, rallies, and planned events. Born in Michigan, he has been in Chicago since college. David is a coach, writer, husband, and father of two young girls, and enjoys reading, cycling, photography, travel, and good food and friends.
Larry Hoffner teaches in LaGuardia High School, NYC... the "Fame" school.
Alexa was born and raised in New York City, but currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she teaches English and Art to at-risk high school students. Before she became a teacher, Alexa worked as an actor, singer and director, mostly in non-commercial theatre.
Yolanda Jenkins-Jackson has been working with students for almost twenty years. Teaching has truly been a passion. Her second true love is traveling. Yolanda’s life time goal is to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Over the past several years, she has traveled to South and North America, Asia, Europe, Canada, and Alaska. The world is such a vast place. She plans to experience as much of it as she can.
Kimberly Leal Tortomasi
Kimberly is finishing her third year of teaching seventh grade language arts at Palmyra-Eagle Middle School in Palmyra, Wisconsin, where she enjoys sharing her passion for reading and writing with all her students. Kimberly is also an avid runner, enjoying her newfound interest in marathons. In late July, Kimberly will celebrate her one year anniversary with her wonderful husband Joel! It's been fun!
Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Tanya Lipscomb realized her love for writing and literature as a tenth grader in high school. At that point she decided to become an English educator in a public school system. After finishing her Bachelor's degree in English at North Carolina Central University, Tanya seized a position in the Durham Public School system where she taught Academy of Reading, Foundations of Literature, World Literature and American Literature. While continuing her calling as an educator, she is also entering into her second year as a full-time graduate student at North Carolina Central University. Having satisfied her dream of teaching English in an urban setting, Tanya now has her eyes set on earning a Master of Fine Arts degree.
Having just finished her 22nd year teaching, Pat Marshall is a proud member of the English department at PORTA High School in Petersburg, Illinois, holding two National Board Certifications. Apart from her obvious interest in Richard Wright, Pat performs as a founding member of the Renaissance ensemble, Pipe & Gambol; rides horses when the weather is accommodating; gardens excessively; and is fondly owned by a plethora of small animals--from chickens to chinchillas. Her husband, George, is a stay-at-home father who wrangles the farmette; ably assists in homeschooling their son, David; and is at the beck and call of Pat's live-in mother, Lora Lee.
Kimberly McCall is a native of Richmond, Virginia and a 2009 honor graduate of North Carolina Central University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary English. She is very pleased to be attending NCCU for graduate studies and is enjoying working as a writing consultant in the school’s Writing Studio. As a graduate student Kimberly has made presentations at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Mini-Regional Conference, and the Seventieth Annual College Language Association Conference. In the fall Kimberly plans to complete her thesis entitled "Passing for What? 'Race,' Class, and the Construction of Identity in Selected Works by Charles Chesnutt, Nella Larsen, and Eric Jerome Dickey." Upon completion of her master’s degree program, Kimberly plans to pursue a doctorate and then return to the classroom as an English instructor.
Dee Dee Mozee
A graduate student of North Carolina Central University, Dee Dee Mozee has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, taking advantage of every opportunity to learn something new. Dee Dee received her bachelor’s degree in English and African American studies from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and hopes to continue her studies in English literature and history through a Ph.D. program. Dee Dee, through a dedicated life in public service, hopes to always be in a position to obtain and give knowledge to students of all races and social classes, but most specifically, underprivileged and underrepresented students from adverse socio-economic backgrounds. Dee Dee is eager about the opportunity to “make the Wright connections” and is honored to experience such a wonderful opportunity with such an auspicious group of scholars.
Meredith has taught in the metro-east area of St. Louis for four years and currently teaches junior high language arts. She recently earned a Master of Science in Education in Learning, Culture, and Society with an emphasis on cultural diversity from Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville. In the future, Meredith would like to teach at the collegiate level, educating future teachers on diversity and creating pluralistic classrooms.
Tom is originally from Wichita. He graduated from Valparaiso University in Indiana in 1990. Tom returned to Wichita to teach history at Southeast High School and earned an M.A. in history from Wichita State University. He took a temporary position teaching history at Bethel College, then enrolled in the Ph.D. program at KU. After finishing his degree he returned to the public school system where he taught history until three years ago when he took a position at the Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City. He is married with two kids.
Suzy Oertel has taught in Topeka, KS for five years, and next year will be teaching Language Arts and Yearbook at Atchison County Community High School in Effingham, KS. She serves on the Kansas Association for Teachers of English (KATE) board as the editor of the KATE Update, is a Flint Hills Writing Project Fellow, and last October was named the Judith C. Gilbert Outstanding Writing Teacher at the KU Literature Festival. She recently earned her Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and National Board Certification.
Meaghan Pogorek was born and raised in Massachusetts. She moved Kansas four years ago with her husband and oldest daughter. Her youngest daughter was born two and a half years ago. She has been teaching in the Kansas City area for the last four years and has taught AP, CT and CTI classes.
Matt Presser teaches middle and high school English in New Haven, Connecticut. He recently earned his master's degree in Urban Education Studies from Yale University. Prior to moving to New Haven, Matt taught at a Boston middle school and an elementary school near Chicago. Matt holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has written for major daily newspapers in Texas, Illinois, and Florida. He enjoys reading, sports, and education policy.
Alison Ray is the English Department Chair at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 6-12th grade private high school in Seattle, Washington. Alison teaches 9th grade English, 11th grade Honors American Literature, and 12th grade Honors English elective courses. During her ten years of teaching English and literature, in addition to her three years at SAAS, she has worked in both urban and suburban public high schools and abroad at the Escuela Americana, a college preparatory school in San Salvador, El Salvador. Since first using Wright’s Native Son during her student teaching year, she has regularly incorporated his literature into her curriculum and is especially interested in reading Wright with students in context of Existentialist philosophy and other literature by African-American writers, such as Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Lynne Renick's job preferences on a junior high survey listed: actress, clown, or teacher. For the past 28 years, she has combined the acting and clowning in front of adolescents. With a B.S.E. and a M.S. from Kansas University, she currently teaches English in the Lawrence, Kansas school district.
Emily Robbins received a M.A. in Literature and Literary Theory with a focus on Caribbean literature/theory and auto/biography from the University of Kansas in 2007. She currently teaches British and American Literature and Composition at the Webb School of Knoxville. Her scholarly writing has appeared most recently in Antipodas: Journal of Hispanic and Galacian Studies and The William Carlos Williams Review.