The summer before starting graduate school at Yale, Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway read Richard Wright’s “Native Son.”
After he arrived on campus, he visited “this thing called the Beinecke” where he began to read a document on display. That document happened to be “Native Son.”
“It was sort of the epiphany of ‘Oh, that’s what this adventure that I am on is about,’ ” Holloway said.
Holloway, a history professor, will be one of the speakers at a celebration of Wright’s centenary birthday today at the Whitney Humanities Center. The event will also feature speeches from English professor Caryl Phillips, English and African American studies professor Elizabeth Alexander and invited guests, writers Ishmael Reed and Daryl Pinckney.
This is just one celebration of Wright’s centenary of many around the world, said Alexander, one of the main organizers of the event. “I think Richard Wright’s works are as relevant and important today as they were when they were first published,” said Nancy Kuhl, associate curator at the Beinecke.
The Beinecke, one of the sponsors of the event, has 141 boxes, which is equal to 72 linear feet, of Wright’s papers as part of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection.
Kuhl called the Beinecke’s collection “the central literary documentary legacy” of Wright’s work.
“It’s one of the most important archival collections in American letters,” Holloway said.
Other sponsors include the African American Studies Program, New Ideas in American Studies, Calhoun College and the Department of English.
“The celebration was a conversation of all of the groups involved in supporting the event,” Kuhl said. “We all have been talking about how important Wright’s work is and has been and has been to all of us.”
Since the Wright papers cannot be moved out of the Beinecke, there will be a display of facsimile copies of documents at the Whitney Humanities Center, Kuhl said. Included in the document will be a portion of Wright’s typed manuscript, complete with his corrections, of “Native Son.”
“When you are looking at his papers here you are just confronted with his incredible intellect and his incredibly rich and complex imagination,” Kuhl said.
Holloway said he plans on discussing his own relationship with Wright’s work, but does not know what specific topics the other speakers, including the two guest speakers, will address.
“We were interested in bringing writers to whom Wright’s work has been important,” Kuhl said.
Alexander described Reed and Pinckney as “very different contemporary writers” who will be able to call on their respective points of view to reflect on Wright’s legacy.
The event will run from 4 to 6 p.m.