Wright, Richard, 1908-1960Variant names
Richard Nathaniel Wright was born September 4, 1908 near Natchez, Mississippi, to Ella Wilson Wright, a schoolteacher, and Nathan Wright, a sharecropper. The story of Richard Wright's childhood, with its harrowing episodes of abandonment by his father, his temporary consignment to an orphanage after his mother became ill, and his short-lived schooling under the harsh guardianship of his grandmother have been detailed in his autobiography, Black Boy (published in 1945 by Harper & Row).
Wright's break with his past began in 1927, when he left the South for the more hopeful environs of Chicago. There, he worked at a number of different jobs, continued to educate himself by reading and began to write. During the early years of the Depression, Wright found himself attracted to local Communist groups, eventually joining the Chicago John Reed Club. His entrance into this exciting political milieu was matched by an increasingly prolific output of writing. He published poetry in left-wing journals such as New Masses and The Anvil, and began working on early versions of Lawd Today and Tarbaby's Dawn . In 1935, he was employed by the Illinois Federal Writers Project, which further strengthened his hopes of being a published author.
Wright moved to New York in 1937 to act as the head of the Harlem Bureau of The Daily Worker . His first major break came the following year, when he submitted four long stories for a contest sponsored by Story magazine and won a publishing contract. The collection, published as Uncle Tom's Children, garnered sympathetic reviews and secured Wright an agent and a hopeful future as a novelist.
The work Wright proposed next was to be a deeply realistic account of oppression and black rage. With the assistance of a Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Wright spent much of 1939 writing Native Son . Harper & Row published the novel on March 1, 1940. The resulting sales and critical acclaim for the book placed Wright in the position as the most well-known black author in America. In January, 1941, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP.
Though Wright was constantly working on several different novels intended to follow Native Son, he switched the focus of his creative endeavors to different forms of writing. Late in 1940, he began a stage adaptation of Native Son in collaboration with Paul Green. The production debuted in early 1941 on Broadway in a production staged by Orson Welles. The summer of that year saw the publication of a collection of photographs of black Americans, 12 Million Black Americans, accompanied by a discursive essay by Wright, and a collaboration with Count Basie on a jazz song, "Joe Louis Blues."
In March 1941, Wright married Ellen Poplar. (A brief marriage to Rose Dhima Meadman had ended in divorce in 1938). Richard and Ellen Wright would have two children, Julia, in 1942, and Rachael in 1949.
Between 1943-45, while Wright tried his hand at other fields of the arts, such as screenwriting, he concentrated on writing his autobiography. The finished draft, known as "American Hunger," was cut in half by the time it was ready for publication. The resulting work, Black Boy, thus details Wright's life only from the time he was born to the point of his departure from the South in 1927. Though sections of the suppressed later sections of the book appeared in print in various places in subsequent years, the original work was only completely "published" posthumously with the appearance of American Hunger in 1977.
In 1946, at the invitation of the French Government, Wright visited France for a period of six months. He returned the following year with his family to live and remained there until his death. The translation of his books and stories into French clinched his growing popularity in that country. While at work on a second novel, Wright took time off between 1949-51 to work on the film version of Native Son . Having found a partner in the French director Pierre Chenal, Wright adapted his most well-known work to this medium and prepared to play the role of Bigger Thomas, himself. The movie, shot in Argentina and alternately titled Sangre Negra, debuted in America in 1951 to less than enthusiastic reviews and even a legal action which successfully banned its projection in several states.
In 1953, Wright reaffirmed his stature as a novelist by publishing, The Outsider, on which he had been working since the publication of Black Boy . This was followed a year later by a shorter work, Savage Holiday . For the rest of the decade, Wright concentrated on reportorial writing. He describes his 1953 trip to the Gold Coast of Africa in Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos . His attendance at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia in 1955 is the subject of The Color Curtain . His commentary and analysis of the culture of Spain was published in 1956 as Pagan Spain . White Man, Listen!, which appeared in 1957, brought together four essays and lectures, on which Wright had been working for many years.
Wright returned once again to the novel form in 1958, publishing The Long Dream, a work that was quickly adapted by Ketti Frings for the stage. It debuted on Broadway in 1959 and ran for five performances. Wright's own adaptation of Louis Sapin's "Papa, Bon Dieu" (as "Daddy Goodness") also suffered a short life, its production abandoned in the Spring of 1959 (before finally being staged in New York in 1968). In 1959, Wright pursued the possibility of moving his family to England, but faced ultimate rejection from the immigration authorities. This, coupled with failing health, slowed his preparation of a collection of short stories. In late November, 1960, Wright was admitted to a clinic in Paris to undergo medical examinations. While resting at the clinic, he died of a heart attack on November 28, 1960, at the age of 52.
From the guide to the Richard Wright papers, 1927-1978, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
African-American author known for candidly addressing race relations and the devastating impact of racial prejudice; best known for his works, "Uncle Tom's Children," "Black Boy," and "Native Son."
From the description of Letter, signed : New York, NY, to Mr. Goldschmidt, 26 January 1947. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 62718973
Prominent author. Wright wrote several novels, short stories, and essays dealing with the oppression of black people in the United States and their struggle for freedom.
From the guide to the Richard Wright collection, 1935-1967, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)
Richard Wright was an African-American writer and editor, noted for his short stories and the novel Native son. His authoritative and uncompromising portrayal of African Americans transcended literature, informing philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history throughout the 20th century.
From the description of Richard Wright letter to E. Ording, 1940 Apr. 29. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 49692940
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Harlem (New York, N.Y.)|
|Republic of France||00||FR|
|Kingdom of Spain||00||ES|
|Authors, American--20th century|
|African American authors|
|Authors, American--20th century--Archives|
|African American authors--20thcentury|
|African American authors--Correspondence|
|Publishers and Publishing|
|African American authors--20th century--Archives|
|American literature--African American authors|
|World War, 1939-1945|