Writer Richard Wright is probably best known for his landmark essays and books depicting and confronting racial injustice, including Native Son and Black Boy. But over the last year and a half of his life, he became entranced by haikus, the traditional Japanese verse form, which helped him process, as the Poetry Foundation notes, "illness and grief over his mother’s death and reconnect to the natural world he had long associated with Southern violence."

He was incredibly prolific, writing about 4,000 of them during that 1959-1960 period, and ended up choosing 817 for a manuscript which would prove to be one of the final projects of his life. Poet Kimiko Hahn has called Wright's haiku work "some of the finest in the West.”

Those haikus are now the subject of Seeing Into Tomorrow, a new public art project by the Poetry Society of America in which some of those verses have been turned into large-scale installations around Downtown Brooklyn. "The project commemorates the achievements of a major Black writer, who lived on Carlton Avenue in Fort Greene in the 1930s, while also inspiring residents and visitors alike to 'read' the city in new ways," the Poetry Society said in a statement.

Photo of a Richard Wright haiku up at BRIC Arts Media

BRIC Arts Media, 647 Fulton Street, corner of Rockwell Place

BRIC Arts Media, 647 Fulton Street, corner of Rockwell Place
Jacob Polcyn-Evans

The haikus are currently up at seven locations including the Fulton Mall shopping district, BRIC, and the Mark Morris Dance Center. You can check out a map of their locations here, and see photos of them in the gallery up above.

In the coming weeks, two more poems will be added to the facade of the Center for Fiction. Also, there are 38 Big Belly recycling bins on Fulton Mall that feature various poems.

Yoshinobu Hakutani, one of the leading experts on haiku in the United States and a Wright scholar, edited Wright's haiku collection, and wrote of his work in that area, “The four thousand haiku Wright wrote at the end of his life were a reflection of changes that had occurred during his career as a writer. But, more important, the new point of view and the new mode of expression he acquired in writing haiku suggest that Wright was convinced more than ever that materialism and its corollary, greed, were the twin culprits of racial conflict. Just as his fiction and nonfiction directly present this conviction, his haiku as racial discourse indirectly express the same conviction.”

If you're thinking about taking a little walking tour to see all of them, you can check out the haikus and locations of the seven main spots below, and read more of his haikus here.


[Shake Shack, Willoughby Pedestrian Plaza, corner of Willoughby and Adams Street]

A spring sky so clear

That you feel you are seeing

Into tomorrow.


[Ann Taylor Store, 447 Fulton Street, corner of Jay Street]

A train crashes past:

A butterfly still as stone

On the humid earth.


[City Point, 445 Albee Square West]

Whose town did you leave,

O wild and droning spring rain,

And where do you go?


[BRIC Arts Media, 647 Fulton Street, corner of Rockwell Place]

Could this melody

Be sung in other countries

By other birds?


[Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Avenue]

The creeping shadow

Of a gigantic oak tree

Jumps over the wall.


[Ten Star Deli & Grocery, 297 Myrtle Avenue]

Follow wherever

The tree branches make arches

In the torrid sun.


[4 Star Candy Deli, 327 Myrtle Avenue]

Leaving its nest,

The sparrow sinks a second,

Then opens its wings.