LAWRENCE — Howard Rambsy II, author, cultural critic and professor of African American & American literature at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, will present a webinar on Richard Wright’s autobiography, “Black Boy,” to mark the 75th anniversary of the book’s release.
Rambsy’s public presentation will be held via Zoom from 4 to 6:30 p.m. April 23. Sponsored by the KU Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) and the University of Kansas Department of English, the presentation will also feature Wright’s daughter and literary executor, Julia Wright, who visited KU in 2010, as a contributor for the virtual discussion.
“The Project on the History of Black Writing is pleased to have Dr. Rambsy agree to the transition of the original talk and celebration to an online format,” said Maryemma Graham, HBW founding director and University Distinguished Professor of English. “His visit helps us honor the Project on the History of Black Writing’s commitment to programming that engages a broader public while making important contributions to research.”
Wright’s memoir, a classic in American and world literature, is the story of a boy’s coming-of-age in the Jim Crow era. Set in rural Mississippi in the first decades of the 20th century, “Black Boy” foregrounds the intense oppression faced by African Americans and the effects of poverty and racism. Like thousands of black people, Wright migrated to Chicago as a teenager and went on to become the most famous African American writer in the first half of the 20th century. He has more than 30 books to his credit, including the international bestselling novel “Native Son.” Following the publication of “Black Boy,” Wright moved to France with his family, where he remained until his death in 1960.
Rambsy, who began collecting editions of “Black Boy” as a student at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, will highlight the transformation of the book’s cover art and transgenerational popularity since 1945. His webinar presentation will help attendees think through representations of race, the marketing of publishers and the effect of life writing.
“As a longtime board member for the Project on the History of Black Writing and resident faculty for our 2015 NEH Summer Institute on Black Poetry, Rambsy models some of the most exciting scholarship in the humanities because he works at the intersection of material culture and society,” Graham said. “This is a great opportunity for students in particular to learn more about what is actually going on in a field that might be off their radar.”
Rambsy teaches African American and American literature and coordinates the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club — an arts and technology program for undergraduates and high school students. A consummate blogger, known for his cogent discussions in “Cultural Front,” Rambsy’s research and publications focus on black poetry and expressive culture. His most recent book, “Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers,” was recently released by the University of Virginia Press.
The Project on the History of Black Writing is a research unit in the Department of English within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Founded in 1983 at the University of Mississippi, HBW has been a touchstone in Wright studies since it convened the first international conference "Mississippi's Native Son” at Ole Miss in 1985. In addition to its research and professional development work, HBW currently has an extensive digital collection, which includes the “Richard Wright Newsletter”, which ran for 15 years. In 2010, HBW hosted “Making the (Richard) Wright Connection,” an NEH-funded Summer Institute at KU for high school teachers. The website wrightconnection.ku.edu/blog is an online community for the study of Richard Wright, hosted by the Project. More information about HBW is available here.
Photo: Howard Rambsy II, author, cultural critic and professor of African American & American literature at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.