Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Fascinating People We Meet

Last week while doing the laundry

I bumped into my new neighbor. 

As we chatted, 

she told me of trips to New York City

and a bit about her family. 

Apparently her grandmother was a poet


Sarah E. Wright. 

A rather famous writer/poet 

as it turns out. 

Following is a copy of 

Sarah E. Wright's 

obituary from 

The New York Times:

Sarah E. Wright, Novelist of Black Experience in the Depression, Dies at 80

Published: October 2, 2009
In 1969 Sarah E. Wright, a Maryland-born writer living in Manhattan, published her first novel, “This Child’s Gonna Live.” Issued by Delacorte Press, it portrays the lives of an impoverished black woman and her family in a Maryland fishing village during the Depression. Often compared to the work of Zora Neale Hurston, the novel was unusual in its exploration of the black experience from a woman’s perspective, anticipating fiction by writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.

Robert DesVerney
Sarah E. Wright


A Novel That Was Based on a Life(October 4, 2009)

“This Child’s Gonna Live” was hailed by critics around the country and named an outstanding book of 1969 by The New York Times. Reviewing it in The Times Book Review earlier that year, the novelist Shane Stevens called it a “small masterpiece,” adding: “Sarah Wright’s triumph in this novel is a celebration of life over death. It is, in every respect, an impressive achievement.”
Ms. Wright never published another novel. She died in Manhattan on Sept. 13, at 80; the cause was complications of cancer, her husband, Joseph Kaye, said. Today “This Child’s Gonna Live” remains highly regarded in literary circles though little known outside them.
The novel centers on Mariah Upshur, the wife of a black oysterman on the Maryland shore. Set in the fictional community of Tangierneck in the early 1930s, it unsparingly depicts the hunger, disease, racism and hard labor that were the stuff of daily life.
Capable, sensual and fiercely determined, Mariah engages in an interior dialogue with Jesus throughout the book. In the opening passage, she prays for a sunny day so she can earn money in the fields, where the young potato plants “weren’t anything but some little old twigs and promises.”
Mariah is pregnant with her fifth child. She has already lost one child in infancy and before the book is out will lose another. She dreams of escaping Tangierneck, “a place of standing still and death,” and is adamant that her new child will live.
While novelists like James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison had explored the black male experience, Ms. Wright’s novel was among the first to focus on the confluence of race, class and sex. Republished by the Feminist Press in 1986 and again in 2002, “This Child’s Gonna Live” remains in print today.
Not every reviewer embraced the book. Writing in Harper’s Magazine in 1969, the critic Irving Howe called its style “overwrought.” But many others praised Ms. Wright’s densely interwoven poetic language, her deft use of local dialect and her ability to convey the extraordinary predicament of being black, female, rural and poor.
“It’s a very difficult novel in a lot of ways,” Jennifer Campbell, an associate professor of writing studies at Roger Williams University, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. (Professor Campbell wrote the afterword to the novel’s 2002 edition.) “It’s very, very painful to read: the pain of not being able to keep your children safe, of not being able to feed them properly, of not being able to give them two pennies for the Halloween celebration.”
Ms. Wright spent about 10 years working on a second novel but did not complete it, her husband said last week.
She scarcely seems to have had time. Besides working full-time as a bookkeeper, Ms. Wright taught, lectured and was a past vice president of the Harlem Writers Guild. She published critical essays; a volume of poetry, “Give Me a Child” (Kraft Publishing, 1955, with Lucy Smith); and a nonfiction book for young people, “A. Philip Randolph: Integration in the Workplace” (Silver Burdett, 1990). She was deeply involved in political causes, protesting everything from the Vietnam War to South African apartheid to the present war in Iraq.
There was something else, Ms. Wright’s husband said, that kept her from the second novel: the anguish of writing the first. For the story of the Upshur family, though its characters were composites, was in large measure Ms. Wright’s own.
Sarah Elizabeth Wright was born on Dec. 9, 1928, in Wetipquin, Md., a historically free black community on the eastern shore. Her father, like Mariah’s husband, was an oysterman; her mother, like Mariah, shucked oysters and picked crops. Sarah had nearly a dozen siblings, several of whom died in childhood. She began writing poetry when she was about 8.
After graduating from Salisbury Colored High School, Sarah entered Howard University, where she became editor of the newspaper. She left before graduating, her husband said, “because she was literally starving.” Her parents had no money to send her for food.
“When Sarah went off to Howard, they had no idea what it meant in terms of the financial requirements,” Mr. Kaye said last week. “They gave her oilcloth that they thought she could barter with other people to obtain what she needed.”
Ms. Wright moved to Philadelphia in the late 1940s and to New York a decade later. There, in a three-room apartment on the Lower East Side, she began work on “This Child’s Gonna Live.”
“That took such a toll on her, because she was forced to dredge up painful childhood memories that she thought she had run away from when she left the community,” Mr. Kaye said. “Death just seemed to be a constant companion in her childhood, and the spirit of death just hovered over the community.”
Besides her husband, Ms. Wright, who was known in private life as Sarah Wright Kaye, is survived by a son, Michael; a daughter, Shelley Chotai; three siblings, Wanda, Howard and Gilbert; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
She also leaves behind a box containing the manuscript of her unfinished novel, the second installment in a planned trilogy about the people of Tangierneck. During the decade she worked on the book, Ms. Wright never discussed it, even with her husband.
Mr. Kaye has not opened the box. To judge from the heft, he said, it contains several hundred pages. From a chapter he found elsewhere, the novel appears to concern Bardetta Upshur, Mariah’s daughter — the child who was meant to live, and did.

 It is fascinating,

 the people you can discover,

by just reaching out and 

chatting with a neighbor.

(Thanks to the NY Times)


  1. Goodness. Want to hear another snippet of synchronicity? I was at a book party/reading last night at AU & spoke with a woman I'd not seen in years. We were talking about new projects. She specializes in critical analysis of fiction & cultural history, etc).Sarah Wright's name came up as a possibility. I'll contact her tomorrow & send her your link.

  2. Well that is a co inky dink! Funny how that happens sometimes. Thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you again.


  3. Dear David, Well, if this is the result of taking one's washing to the laundry, then I shall instantly banish the washing machine from the house and, in future, trek to the launderette in the hope of meeting someone even half as interesting as the grand-daughter of Sarah E. Wright.

    To my shame, I had not known of her before now so your posting has proved to be not only entertaining but informative as well. I shall certainly go from here to look her up.

  4. Good Day Edith,

    I don't know if I'd banish the washing machine BUT I certainly do recommend that people do less cocooning and more interacting. I'm so glad you've been enjoying Global Around Town. Do tell your friends!


  5. Wow...i love this kind of story and encounter...especially on a laundry trip ! She sounds fascinating too...
    You're right...less cocooning and here's to more interacting !

  6. Hey Lala,

    Thanks for coming over and interacting here! Nice seeing you.


  7. What a serendipitous meeting! I most find some of her work.

  8. Gotta love the serendipity! Thanks for popping by!


  9. Wow. Many thanks, David, for posting this!!!!! I have forwarded your link to my family, who will no doubt be deeply moved by your kind words and by the kind comments by your followers (thank you all!).

    Giulia, please leave your contact information with David so that I may learn more about your interests in my grandmother's works. She was a lovely woman.

    Her links are here:

  10. Hi Marci,

    It was my pleasure discovering a bit more about you and your brilliant Grandmother. Glad you enjoyed the posting. And thanks for the links. I'll see ya in the laundry room again soon!