Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Professor of English at Dillard University, is the author of The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery (UNO Press, 2008). Professor Ward has been a faithful guest blogger for the HBW
Just as Camille T. Dungy’s Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (2009) invites us to be more attentive to how black poets have reflected on ecological spaces, The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku, edited by Jianqing Zheng, invites us to reassess Wright’s “fascination with haiku and Zen Buddhism” as a sign of his “global mindshift that reflects a significant aspect of his reception of and sensibility to other cultures” (ix). Zheng’s phrase “global mindshift” is critical for any understanding of the totality of Wright’s aesthetic imagination.
The ten essays Zheng has gathered to enlighten us about Wright’s creation of haiku mark an important moment in Wright studies, because they demand that we think again about Wright’s critique and destruction of an American black/white binary in poetry. Thomas L. Morgan, one of the contributors, cleverly directs us to Wright’s comment in a 1955 L’Express interview: “If my writing has any aim, it is to try to reveal that which is human on both sides, to affirm the essential unity of man on earth” (95). Wright identified the “sides” as the Western world and its enemies. Forcing the West to listen, “Wright integrated a Western mind into an Eastern poetic form,” Zheng argues, “to enlarge his or our sense of human complexity and human union or reunion with nature” (xviii).