Over the course of the debate concerning Wright's depiction of black women, critics have ignored the manuscript and extensive body of research to which Wright immediately turned after Native Son, a project Wright explicitly identified as female-centered and for which his publisher suggested the title “Native Daughter.” To concentrate an assessment of Wright's black female domestic servants solely on the portrayal of Bessie Mears in Native Son obscures the radical evolution in his construction of the black female domestic servant from Mears to Ollie Knight (“Black Hope”) to Carl “Lucy” Owens (“Man of All Work”) as a result of Wright's extensive interviews with and research on the female domestic servants in the Bronx and Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s. Wright's decision to meet and talk directly with the women of the so-called modern slave markets results in a remarkable oral history of these spaces and in a novel that should transform the critical conversation surrounding Wright and women.
Julieann Veronica Ulin; Talking to Bessie: Richard Wright's Domestic Servants. American Literature 1 March 2013; 85 (1): 151–176. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1959571
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