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Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright

Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright: The Poetics and Politics of Modernism

M. Lynn Weiss
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 150
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    Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright
    Book Description:

    After the Second World War Gertrude Stein asked a friend's support in securing a visa for Richard Wright to visit Paris.

    "I've got to help him, she said. You see, we are both members of a minority group."

    The brief, little-noted friendship of Stein and Wright began in 1945 with a letter. Over the next fifteen months, the two kept up a lively correspondence which culminated in Wright's visit to Paris in May 1946 and ended with Stein's death a few months later.

    Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright began their careers as marginals within marginalized groups, and their desire to live peacefully in unorthodox marriages led them away from America and into permanent exile in France. Still the obvious differences between them-in class, ethnic and racial origins, and in artistic expression-beg the question: What was there to talk about? This question opens a window onto each writer's meditations on the influence of racial, ethnic, national origins on the formation of identity in a modern and post-modern world.

    The intuitive and intellectual affinities between Stein and Wright are illuminated in several works of non-fiction. Stein'sParis Franceand Wright'sPagan Spainare meditations on expatriation and creativity. Their so-called homecoming narratives-Stein'sEverybody's Autobiographyand Wright'sBlack Power--examine concepts of racial and national identity in a post-modernist world. Respectively inLectures in AmericaandWhite Man, Listen!Stein and Wright outline the ways in which the poetics and politics of modernism are inextricably bound.

    At the close of the twentieth century the meditations of Stein and Wright on the protean quality of individual identity and its artistic, social, and political expression explore the most prescient and pressing issues of our time and beyond.

    M. Lynn Weiss is an assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Washington University.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-772-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Two Lives: Modernism and the Stein/Wright Connection
    (pp. 1-26)

    The relationship between Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright is generally noted, but its implications are rarely explored. In the context of American literary history where Stein’s friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder or Wright’s with James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison are central, the invisibility of the Stein/Wright relationship is suggestive. In most expatriate studies Stein and Wright are rarely considered in the same book, a reluctance perhaps to cross boundaries created by the critical practice of feminist, African-American, and ethnic studies. Such studies have made important contributions to American literary history, but their Linnaean impulse can obscure significant features...

  6. 2 Innocents Abroad: Gertrude Stein’s Paris France and Richard Wright’s Pagan Spain
    (pp. 27-50)

    Paris FranceandPagan Spainextend our understanding of expatriation as a way for American artists to achieve an aesthetic, emotional, and social distance from their native land. These two texts invite us to think about the other side of that distance, Europe in this case, as more than merely a vacuous “euro-world” visible only to the extent that it remains clichéd. To ignore the destination of these narratives is to miss too much. For example, Judith Saunders equated Stein’s use of Paris inParis Franceto Thoreau’s use of Walden Pond inWalden. Although Stein and Thoreau use these...

  7. 3 American Odyssey: Richard Wright’s Black Power and Gertrude Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography
    (pp. 51-96)

    This observation articulates one of the most important features of the modernist sensibility for Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright in both poetics and politics. Stein and Wright were, given the facts of American life, in a better position than most to experience “the variability and indeterminacy of human identity” (North 67). Even though there is abundant evidence for this in their canonical works, the homecoming narratives offer remarkable insight into the creative encounter with the indeterminacy of human identity. Stein’sEverybody’s Autobiographychronicles a seven-month journey back to the United States after a thirty-year absence.Black Poweris Wright’s account...

  8. 4 Lecture Notes: Gertrude Stein’s Lectures in America and Richard Wright’s White Man, Listen!
    (pp. 97-128)

    In a letter dated October 29, 1945, Richard Wright urged Gertrude Stein to return to the States for a lecture tour. The moment was ideal; the postwar period had opened people’s minds, and they needed new ideas: “The nation feels guilty right now about the Negro and if you came and hammered it home while they feel that way, why, they would sit back and take notice. I have in mind … something like this: You’d speak mainly to the artists. You’d tell them, why you dumb bunnies, French artists know more of Negro life in Africa than you do...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 129-138)

    In their explorations of place and displacement, of home and origins, of poetics and politics, Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright call for new narratives. InParis France, Everybody’s Autobiography, andLectures in America, Gertrude Stein foregrounds her most important contributions to American modernism and more. Stein’s emphasis on radical subjectivity and her experiments with temporal representation argue the impossibility of the definitive in life or art. These innovations place contingency and indeterminacy at the center of the experience of modernity and, by extension, modernist poetics. Stein’s linguistic innovations depend on distance: the physical distance between Oakland and New York, France...

  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 139-144)
  11. Index
    (pp. 145-150)