American Icons: Native Son | WBEZ
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Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen

American Icons: Native Son

This is the novel about racism that America couldn't ignore.

The story of a young man in the ghetto who turns to murder was an overnight sensation. Richard Wright set out to confront white readers with the most brutal consequences of racism, and finally lay to rest the stereotype of the passive Uncle Tom — “he literally wanted to create a bigger Thomas,” one scholar argues. But some think Native Son exploited the worst stereotypes of black youth. “Is this giving me permission to go kill white women?” wondered a young Carl Hancock Rux. “Is that what we’re supposed to be doing now?”

We trace the line from Bigger Thomas to Notorious B.I.G., and visit a high school drama class acting out Native Son, and struggling to grasp the racism their grandparents experienced. With Nathan McCall, Carl Hancock Rux, and Richard Wright's daughter, Julia Wright.

(Originally aired September 6, 2013)

Thank you to the following for their time and research: Frankie Bailey, Timuel Black, James Campbell, The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, Thomas Cripps, Dolores Fish, Rebecca Hall, Margot McMahon, Gabriel Mendes, Bayo Ojikutu, Howard Pitsch and the Fort Greene Association, Tim Samuelson, and Malcolm Wright.

 

Bonus Track: Nathan McCall on how Native Son changed his life
Hear producer Amanda Aronczyk's full interview with Nathan McCall, author of Makes Me Wanna Holler.

Video: Richard Wright's screen test for the original film of Native Son

  

Photos: The Stivers High School for the Arts' production of Native Son

Native Son American Icons Studio 360
Eric McCalister as Bigger Thomas in the Stivers High School for the Arts' production of Native Son (Tom Patterson)

 

Bigger (Eric McCalister) writes a ransom note while Clara (Ashley Brooks) begs him to stop. (Tom Patterson)
Bigger (Eric McCalister) writes a ransom note while Clara (Ashley Brooks) begs him to stop. (Tom Patterson)

 

Native Son American Icons Studio 360
Clara (Ashley Brooks) cries in fear when she learns that Bigger (Eric McCalister) has killed young, white Mary Dalton. In the dramatic adaption of Native Son, the character of Clara fills the role of Bessie in the novel. (Tom Patterson)

 

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