Gloria Naylor's Bookshelf
By Richard Wright
There have been only two books in my life that have made me cry—the first 50 pages of Jane Eyre and the last 50 of Native Son. Like Ann Petry's The Street and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Richard Wright's masterpiece is in the school of the protest novel. This is a political term for books that were critical of the social conditions in America during the 1930s and '40s. Native Son is considered a classic because it spoke to a truth that is still relevant today: diminished opportunities for young black men. In Bigger Thomas's struggle for self-worth, I saw the faces of the sons and brothers and uncles and nephews within my community. Of course, few—if any of them—would go to the violent extremes that Wright's character did, but I know they have felt his desperation at times. Native Son taught me that it's all right to have passion within your work, that you don't need to shy away from politics in order to write fiction. Everything is political, from buying a loaf of bread to looking for an apartment.