Black in the Day…A Black Boy and Native Son
November 28, 1960:
On this day pioneering writer Richard Wright, who is best known for the classic texts ‘Black Boy’ and ‘Native Son’, passed away.
Richard Nathaniel Wright was an American author of novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. Much of his literature concerns racial themes, especially related to the plight of African Americans during the late 19th to mid-20th centuries, who suffered discrimination and violence in the South and the North. Literary critics believe his work helped change race relations in the United States in the mid-20th century.
Richard Nathaniel Wright was born in Natchez, Mississippi, on September 4, 1908. His mother was a country school teacher and his father an illiterate sharecropper. The family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1914, and soon the father abandoned them. From then on Richard’s education was inconsistent, but he had attained experience beyond his years. He bounced from school to school and desperately tried to make friends and fit in with his fellow classmates.
Wright knew what it was to be a victim of racial hatred before he learned to read, for he was living with an aunt when her husband was lynched (brutally attacked or killed because of one’s race). Richard’s formal education ended after the ninth grade in Jackson, Mississippi.
His father left home when he was five, and the boy, who grew up in poverty, was often shifted from one relative to another. He worked at a number of jobs before joining the northward migration, first to Memphis, Tennessee, and then to Chicago. There, after working in unskilled jobs, he got an opportunity to write through the Federal Writers’ Project. In 1932 he became a member of the Communist Party, and in 1937 he went to New York City, where he became Harlem editor of the Communist Daily Worker.
Wright first came to the general public’s attention with a volume of novellas, Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), based on the question: How may a black man live in a country that denies his humanity? In each story but one the hero’s quest ends in death. His fictional scene shifted to Chicago in Native Son. Its protagonist, a poor black youth named Bigger Thomas, accidentally kills a white girl, and in the course of his ensuing flight his hitherto meaningless awareness of antagonism from a white world becomes intelligible. The book was a best seller and was staged successfully as a play on Broadway (1941) by Orson Welles. Wright himself played Bigger Thomas in a motion-picture version made in Argentina in 1951.
After living mainly in Mexico from 1940 to 1946, Wright became so disillusioned with both the Communist Party and white America that he went off to Paris, where he lived the rest of his life as an expatriate. He continued to write novels, including The Outsider (1953) and The Long Dream (1958), and nonfiction, such as Black Power (1954) and White Man, Listen! (1957)
Wright died of a heart attack on November 28, 1960, in Paris, France.
*Info from Biography.com and Britannica.com