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
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
Paris France and Wright's Pagan Spain
are meditations on expatriation and creativity. Their so-called homecoming
narratives-Stein's Everybody's Autobiography and Wright's Black
Power --examine concepts of racial and national identity in a post-modernist
world. Respectively in Lectures in America and White 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.