Books: Whiff of The Problem

RICHARD WRIGHT by Consfance Webb. 443 pages. Putnam. $8.95.

At the shank of the 1944 Christmas season, three Negroes walked into one of Brooklyn's "better" restaurants. They were Horace Cayton, sociologist and grandson of Hiram R. Revels, the U.S.'s first Negro Senator; Elmer Carter, a Harvard-educated writer, and social scientist; and Novelist Richard Wright, already famous as author of Uncle Tom's Children (1938) and Native Son (1941).

As patrons gawked, Wright ordered martinis, leaned toward his friends and said, "Fear is the most dominant emotion in Negro life." A few minutes later, a waiter set a tray of dirty dishes on their...