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Richard Wright (1) (1908–1960)

Author of Native Son

For other authors named Richard Wright, see the disambiguation page.

49+ Works 16,695 Members 213 Reviews 32 Favorited

About the Author

Richard Wright was generally thought of as one of the most gifted contemporary African American writers until the rise of James Baldwin. "With Wright, the pain of being a Negro is basically economic---its sight is mainly in the pocket. With Baldwin, the pain suffuses the whole man. . . . If show more Baldwin's sights are higher than Wright's, it is in part because Wright helped to raise them" (Time). Wright was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper. At the age of 15, he started to work in Memphis, then in Chicago, then "bummed all over the country," supporting himself by various odd jobs. His early writing was in the smaller magazines---first poetry, then prose. He won Story Story's $500 prize---for the best story written by a worker on the Writer's Project---with "Uncle Tom's Children" in 1938, his first important publication. He wrote Native Son (1940) in eight months, and it made his reputation. Based in part on the actual case of a young black murderer of a white woman, it was one of the first of the African American protest novels, violent and shocking in its scenes of cruelty, hunger, rape, murder, flight, and prison. Black Boy (1945) is the simple, vivid, and poignant story of Wright's early years in the South. It appeared at the beginning of a new postwar awareness of the evils of racial prejudice and did much to call attention to the plight of the African American. The Outsider (1953) is a novel based on Wright's own experience as a member of the Communist party, an affiliation he terminated in 1944. He remained politically inactive thereafter and from 1946 until his death made his principal residence in Paris. His nonfiction writings on problems of his race include Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (1954), about a visit to the Gold Coast, White Man, Listen (1957), and Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States. (Bowker Author Biography) Richard Wright was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi. His father left the family when Wright was only five years old, and he was raised first by his mother and then by a series of relatives. What little schooling he had ended with his graduation from ninth grade in Memphis, Tennessee. At age 15, he started to work in Memphis, and later worked in Chicago before traveling across the country supporting himself with odd jobs. When Wright finally returned to Chicago, he got a job with the federal Writer's Project, a government-supported arts program. He was quite successful, winning a $500 prize from a magazine for the best fiction written by a participant in that program. In Chicago, he was also introduced to leftist politics and became a member of the Communist Party. In 1937, Wright left Chicago for New York, where he became Harlem editor for the Communist national newspaper, The Daily Worker, and where he met future novelist, Ralph Ellison. Wright became a celebrated author with the publication of Native Son (1940), a novel he wrote in only eight months. Based on the actual case of a young black murderer of a white woman, it was one of the first of the modern black protest novels, violent and shocking in its sense of cruelty, hunger, rape, murder, flight, and prison. This novel brought Wright both fame and financial security. He followed it with his autobiography, Black Boy (1945), which was also successful. In 1942, Wright and his wife broke with the Communist Party, and in 1947, they moved to France, where Wright lived the rest of his life. His novel The Outsider (1953) is based on his experiences as a member of the Communist Party. Wright is regarded as a major modern American writer, one of the first black writers to reach a large white audience, and thereby raise the level of national awareness of the continuing problem of racism in America. In many respects Wright paved the way for all black writers who followed him. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Richard Wright (1908-1960)
Photograph by Gordon Parks, May 1943
(Farm Security Administration-
Office of War Information Photograph Collection,
Library of Congress)

Works by Richard Wright

Native Son (1940) 7,555 copies
Black Boy (1945) 5,062 copies
Uncle Tom's Children (1938) 717 copies
The Outsider (1953) 385 copies
Eight Men: Short Stories (1961) 251 copies
Native Son (Abridged) (1940) 217 copies
American Hunger (1977) 177 copies
Rite of passage (1994) 175 copies
12 Million Black Voices (1941) 149 copies
Haiku: This Other World (1998) 125 copies
Pagan Spain (1957) 111 copies
The Long Dream (1958) 94 copies
Lawd Today! (1963) 93 copies
A Father's Law (2008) 92 copies
White Man, Listen! (1957) 77 copies
Savage Holiday (1954) 58 copies
Richard Wright Reader (1978) 38 copies
Native Son / Black Boy (1987) 36 copies
Thy Fearful Symmetry (2012) 16 copies
Almos' a Man (2000) 9 copies
Injustice: Vintage Minis (2018) 8 copies
Bright and Morning Star (1939) 7 copies
Richard Wright (2002) 3 copies
Neli meest : [novellid] (1963) 3 copies
Black Boy [Easy Reader] (1971) 2 copies
Callaloo Vol. 9 No. 3 (1986) 1 copy
Der schwarze Traum (1971) 1 copy

Associated Works

The Best American Short Stories of the Century (2000) — Contributor — 1,536 copies
Winter Poems (1994) — Contributor — 1,140 copies
Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama (1995) — Contributor, some editions — 902 copies
The Best American Essays of the Century (2000) — Contributor — 759 copies
The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (1992) — Contributor — 730 copies
Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (1992) — Contributor, some editions — 505 copies
The God That Failed (1944) — Contributor — 420 copies
The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader (1994) — Contributor — 394 copies
Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993) — Contributor — 325 copies
A Treasury of Short Stories (1947) — Contributor — 286 copies
Modern American Memoirs (1995) — Contributor — 184 copies
This Is My Best (1942) — Contributor — 181 copies
African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song (2020) — Contributor — 162 copies
Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1962) — Introduction, some editions — 159 copies
Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning in the Blues (1963) — Foreword — 147 copies
The Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories (1991) — Contributor — 121 copies
Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White (1998) — Contributor — 113 copies
Voices from the Harlem Renaissance (1976) — Contributor — 103 copies
The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology (1997) — Contributor — 96 copies
The 100 Best African American Poems (2010) — Contributor — 95 copies
American Short Stories (1976) — Contributor, some editions — 91 copies
Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America (1995) — Contributor — 87 copies
200 Years of Great American Short Stories (1975) — Contributor — 65 copies
D.C. Noir 2: The Classics (2008) — Contributor — 61 copies
Racism and Sexism: An Integrated Study (1988) — Contributor — 61 copies
American Negro Short Stories (1966) — Contributor — 60 copies
Eleven Modern Short Novels (1970) — Contributor — 49 copies
Chicago Noir: The Classics (2015) — Contributor — 46 copies
Soulscript: Afro-American Poetry (1970) — Contributor — 39 copies
Southern Dogs and Their People (2000) — Contributor — 38 copies
50 Best American Short Stories 1915-1939 (1939) — Contributor — 28 copies
America on Stage : Ten Great Plays of American History (1976) — Contributor — 22 copies
Modern American Short Stories (1945) — Contributor — 15 copies
Mississippi Writers: An Anthology (1991) — Contributor — 14 copies
Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, Volume I (1962) — Introduction, some editions — 10 copies
Quintet: 5 of the World's Greatest Short Novels (1956) — Contributor — 6 copies
Native Son [1951 film] (2003) — Actor / Original book — 5 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1958 (1958) — Contributor — 5 copies
Twelve short novels (1976) — Contributor — 3 copies
Strange Barriers (1955) — Contributor — 2 copies


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Common Knowledge



56. The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright
afterward Malcolm Wright (2021)
OPD: 2021 (written 1941-1942, with a shortened version published in 1944)
format: 228-page Kindle ebook
acquired: October 3 read: Oct 4-15 time reading: 5:44, 1.5 mpp
rating: 4
genre/style: Novel theme: Richard Wright
locations: unknown American city, probably southern
about the author: American author born on a Mississippi plantation, 1908-1960

This for me was a curiosity, part powerful, part quirky. Wright takes a close look at police brutality against African Americans (a point noted in his publisher's rejection documentation) and then an almost surreal look at a refugee living in American sewers. Fred Daniels, a good church-going upstanding person and expectant father, is arrested for a murder he knows nothing about. He's not questioned, but beat-up by an all-white police force demanding a confession. It's not clear where his mind was before this happens, but he gets rattled, and it seems his mind is never able to settle down. Instead, in the sewers he tunnels, and he stumbles across apparent odd truths about the basics in life - religion, death, money, entertainment, etc.

Maybe think Plato's cave. It's a combination of Wright's creativity and what I see has his semi-super-aware, semi-blind romantic mindset. It makes an odd combination of strange guy in a strange place doing strange things that don't quite make sense. In a long afterward, which Wright intended to be published with the novel, he explained the novel as a response to the stubborn illogical religious faith his grandmother followed and depended on, a source of conflict between he and his grandmother, his main parent during his older childhood.

This is a lost novel. Wright wrote it written during WW2, in 1942, but it was rejected for publication by his publisher. A shorter version was published in a journal, and later in a posthumous collection. Wright moved on, composing [Black Boy], his classic published in 1945. There he goes directly into his grandmother's religion and state of mind, and its impacts on him. The full version of this novel was first published in 2021, after Wright's grandson, Malcolm Wright, pushed for it.

… (more)
dchaikin | 11 other reviews | Oct 22, 2023 |
I read this to go along with a free online course (The American Novel since 1945). With that in mind, I guess the most immediate question I had was "What does an autobiography have to do with novels?" Well, it turns out that Wright wrote dramatic scenes with sharply written dialogue. While events do follow his own life, he apparently used incidents that happened to people he knew as readily as he used those that happened to himself. We can see from the end of the book, when he was involved with the Communist Party, that he was growing more concerned with expressing the feeling of being a black southerner. The first half of Black Boy succeeded in that.

The second part was quite different. Based on other books I have read, I thought his view of the North was a bit idealistic. Maybe the silly and grating inter-politics of the Communist Party's artist clubs made a more poignant and less-expected comparison to the racism and religion that kept him down in the South and became the focus for that reason.
… (more)
bannedforaday | 67 other reviews | Oct 22, 2023 |
RCornell | 3 other reviews | Oct 21, 2023 |
RCornell | 2 other reviews | Oct 21, 2023 |


AP Lit (2)
1940s (1)


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Associated Authors

Edwin Rosskam Photo-Direction
Oscar Ryan Contributor
Arnold Rampersad Editor, Introduction, Notes, , Afterword
Malcolm Wright Afterword
Nina Crews Introduction
John Reilly Afterword
David Diaz Illustrator, Cover artist
Camillo Pellizzi Translator
Mary Schuck Cover designer
Caryl Phillips Introduction
Gösta Olzon Translator
Peter Cade Cover artist
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Introduction
Julia Wright Contributor
Bruno Fonzi Translator
Richard Yarborough Introduction
Stephanie Rosenfeld Book and cover designer
Keneth Kinnamon Contributor
Cornel West Introduction


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