1 jan 2003

Richard Wright

One of America's greatest black writers

Richard Wright was among the first African American writers to achieve literary fame and fortune, but his reputation has less to do with the color of his skin than with the superb quality of his work.

He was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, on September 4 1908, the son of an illiterate sharecropper. Though he spent only a few years of his life in Mississippi, those years would play a key role in his two most important works: Native Son, a novel, and his autobiography, Black Boy.

From 1925 to 1927, while writing he discovered the works of H.L. Mencken, Theodore Dreiser, and Sinclair Lewis.

He moved to Chicago, where he became a Post Office clerk until the Great Depression forced him to take on various temporary positions. During this time he became involved with the Communist Party, writing articles and stories for both the Daily Worker and New Masses. In April 1931 he published his first major story, "Superstition," in Abbot's Monthly.

His ties to the Communist Party continued after moving to New York in 1937. He became the Harlem editor of the Daily Worker and helped edit a short-lived literary magazine, New Challenge. In 1938 four of his stories were collected as Uncle Tom's Children. He then received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him to complete his first novel, Native Son (1940). In 1939, he married Dhimah Rose Meadman, a white dancer, but the two separated shortly thereafter. In 1941, he married Ellen Poplar, a white member of the Communist Party, and they had two daughters, Julia in 1942 and Rachel in 1949.

In 1944 he broke with the Communist Party but continued to follow liberal ideologies. After moving to Paris in 1946, Wright became friends with Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus while going through an Existentialist phase best depicted by his second novel, The Outsiders (1953). In 1954 he published a minor novel, Savage Holiday. After becoming a French citizen in 1947, he continued to travel throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, and these experiences led to a number of nonfiction works.

In his last years, he was plagued by illness (aerobic dysentary) and financial hardship. Throughout this period he wrote approximately 4,000 English Haikus (some of which were recently published for the first time) and another novel, The Long Dream, in 1958. He also prepared another collection of short stories, Eight Men, which was published after his death on November 28, 1960.

Source: www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/wright_richard/

Other Resources:

  • Richard Wright: Black Boy, a PBS documentary.
  • Richard Wright — A Webpage, by Richard Hancuff, George Washington University.
  • Richard Wright, from Mississippi Writers and Musicians, Starkville High School, Starkville, Mississippi