Richard Nathaniel Wright
Episode #9 of the course “Significant American writers of the 20th century”
A monument in African American literature, Richard Wright is most well-known for his novel Native Son and his autobiography, Black Boy. While he published hundreds of novels, nonfiction works, essays, and even blurbs for record albums, much of Wright’s writing went unacclaimed due to his Communist associations and his expatriate lifestyle. The content of his works received attention for its graphic depiction of the struggles of African Americans, and his writing has experienced both censorship and acclaim. Wright focused on racism and its effects, describing the frustration of both northern and southern rural blacks.
Richard Wright was born in Mississippi in 1908 and never received a proper education. He moved frequently as a child to live with relatives and left school at a young age to support his family. When he was in school, he excelled, and at age 15 was recognized both for his writing and principles. He left formal education in 1925 and moved to Chicago the following year.
In Chicago, Wright established connections that would continue to serve him the remainder of his life. He became involved in Communist political groups, as well as met new writers through chairing the South Side Writers Group. Continuing to write and edit, Wright published a number of short stories in magazines before winning the Story prize in 1938. He published his first short story collection, Uncle Tom’s Children, and then his masterpiece novel, Native Son, in 1940.
Among the controversy of Native Son, which depicts racist violence from an African American fictional perspective, Wright published his non-fiction narrative Black Boy in 1945. Readers were again struck by his harsh portrayal of white America and a system of classist, violent oppression. Dissatisfied with American life and ideas, Wright moved to Paris, where he lived the remainder of his life. Wright traveled to Africa, wrote and published on international topics rather than American ones, and became an outsider to the American literary scene. Many of his expatriate works were not available in the US until after his death in 1960.
“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.”
“Violence is a personal necessity for the oppressed…It is not a strategy consciously devised. It is the deep, instinctive expression of a human being denied individuality.”
“The artist must bow to the monster of his own imagination.”
“Whenever my environment had failed to support or nourish me, I had clutched at books…”
“Love grows from stable relationships, shared experience, loyalty, devotion, trust.”
“Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth”
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