I first encountered Richard Wright’s Native Son from an admittedly privileged point of view. I included it as part of the comprehensive exams required for my PhD in English literature. I had read Wright’s Black Boy, so I was acquainted with his style and profound depiction of the American south.

Wright is a major literary figure, so of course he belonged on an exam list. But I couldn’t have been prepared for Native Son’s captivating, visceral portrayal of Bigger Thomas’s plight. Wright depicts the events that surround and subdue Bigger Thomas in a way that illuminates how extant societal structures continually oppress and disadvantage young black American men. The sequence of seemingly unstoppable and harrowing events that snowball as the novel progresses offered me unprecedented access into a world of experience that I, a white male, could never know otherwise.

Together with Black Boy, Native Son shows how outmoded racist ideologies inform many facets of America’s southern and northern communities. Experiencing it was not a happy moment, but a moment that remains with me each day as I and so many others do what we can to reckon with racial injustice in our country.

– Matt Phillips (English Lecturer)