Mercury House

The Wig

Charles Wright
Introduction by Ishmael Reed

Original Mercury House edition
Fiction & African American Literature
$14.95, 192 pages

Originally published in 1966, this absurdist Candide in Harlem, told by the first "black, black humorist," is the story of Lester Jefferson, a young man of good will whose repeated attempts to become a part of The Great Society are doomed in advance. Aided, thwarted, and confused by numerous, curious companions, Lester conducts his inevitable search for happiness in a series of absurdist misadventures that begins with the transformation of the hair on his head into burnished silken curls.

"... explodes with the crazy laughter of a man past caring.... His style, as mean and vicious a weapon as a rusty hacksaw, is the perfect vehicle for his zany pessimism.... 'The Wig' is a brutal, exciting, and necessary book."
—Conrad Knickerbocker, The New York Times, 1966

"'The Wig' marked a change in African-American fiction. All of us who wanted to 'experiment,' as we were seeing our painter and musician friends experiment, used it as a model. Though some would call me the literary son of Ralph Ellison, in the 1960s I was the younger brother of Charles Wright."
—from the introduction by ISHMAEL REED

Charles Stevenson Wright (1932-2008) was born in New Franklin, Missouri. At the age of eighteen he attended the James Jones & Lowney Turner Handy Writer's Colony in Marshall, Illinois. A former columnist for the Village Voice, he has also written for Vogue and The New York Times. He served two years in the U.S. army, the last year in Korea. He is the author of three published works: The Messenger (1963), The Wig (1966), and a "journal-novel" Absolutely Nothing to Be Alarmed About (1973). He lived in New York City.

Ishmael Reed, a preeminent figure of contemporary African-American letters, has been nominated twice for the National Book Award (for Conjure and Mumbo Jumbo). A poet, novelist, essayist and playwright, Reed was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship in 1998. A lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, he lives in Oakland, where he runs Ishmael Reed Publications.

This publication was funded by the
NEA Heritage & Preservation Series.