An Invitation to Madison County Summary

Jay Wright


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“An Invitation to Madison County” comes from The Homecoming Singer, Wright’s second book of poetry. In many poems in this work, he portrays places he has lived or visited. He uses these autobiographical materials as springboards from which to launch his search for identity. “An Invitation to Madison County” relates his experiences in rural Mississippi when he toured the South on a fellowship in the 1960’s.

When he first arrives, the poet feels alienated. At the end of the poem, however, he visualizes a common tradition as he begins to communicate with a rural black family. The first three stanzas express the tension the poet feels in Mississippi, far away from the familiar environment of New York City. He is anxious, trying to write in his “southern journal,” but “can’t get down the apprehension,/ the strangeness, the uncertainty” that he feels in the small town. He envisions southern white racism, but nothing happens: “No one has asked me to move over/ for a small parade of pale women,/ or called me nigger, or asked me where I’m from.”

His host picks him up at the airport, and they drive silently through the quiet streets. The speaker is still apprehensive as they approach the small college campus, that, like the poet, seems alien to the environment. Even the conversations of young students and instructors do not break the invisible wall surrounding him; he still feels “not totally out of Harlem.” He wonders how he will let his hosts know that he does not want to listen to pleasantries but rather wants them to teach him something about what it means to be black.

His anxiety begins to dissipate in the next three stanzas, after he meets a young woman who “knows that I can read” and who simply...

(The entire section is 726 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Callaloo 6 (Fall, 1983). Special issue on Jay Wright.

Doreski, C. K. “Decolonizing the Spirits: History and Storytelling in Jay Wright’s Soothsayers and Omens.” In Reading Race in American Poetry: An Area of Act, edited by Aldon Lynn Nielsen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Harris, Wilson. The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Kutzinski, Vera M. Against the American Grain: Myth and History in William Carlos Williams, Jay Wright, and Nicolás Guillén. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Okpewho, Isidore. “From a Goat Path in Africa: An Approach to the Poetry of Jay Wright.” Callaloo: A Journal of the African American and African Arts and Letters 14 (Summer, 1991): 692-726.

Stepto, Robert. “After Modernism, After Hibernation: Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, and Jay Wright.” In Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Arts, and Scholarship, edited by Michael S. Harper and Stepto. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Stepto, Robert. Introduction to Selected Poems of Jay Wright. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Welburn, Ron. “Jay Wright’s Poetics: An Appreciation.” MELUS 18 (Fall, 1993): 51-70.