In 1934, Nancy Cunard published Negro: An Anthology, which brought together more than two hundred contributions, serving as a plea for racial justice, an expose of black oppression, and a hymn to black achievement and endurance. The anthology stands as a virtual ethgraphy of 1930s racial, historic, artistic, political, and ecomic culture. Samuel Beckett, a close friend of the flamboyant and unconventional Cunard, translated nineteen of the contributions for Negro, constituting Beckett's largest single prose publication. Beckett traditionally has been viewed as an apolitical postmodernist rather than as a willing and major participant in Negro's racial, political, and aesthetic agenda. In Beckett in Black and Red, Friedman reevaluates Beckett's contribution to the project, reconciling the humanism of his life and work and valuing him as a man deeply engaged with the greatest public issues of his time. Cunard believed racial justice and equality could be achieved only through Communism, and thus black and red were inextricably linked in her vision. Beckett's contribution to Negro demonstrates his support for Cunard's interest in surrealism as well as her political causes, including international republicanism and anti-fascism. Only in recent years have Cunard's ideas begun to receive serious consideration. Beckett in Black and Red radically revalues Cunard and reconceives Beckett. His work in Negro shows a commitment to cultural and individual equality and worth that Beckett consistently demonstrated throughout his life, both in personal relationships and in his writing.
Alan Warren Friedman , professor of English at the University of Texas, is coeditor of Beckett Translating/Translating Beckett and author of four books, including Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise.