Richard Wright was born in 1908 in Roxie, near Natchez, Mississippi. His father was a sharecropper and his mother a teacher. The family moved to Memphis but Wright’s father then deserted the family. The family struggled and Wright and his brother were often hungry. When Wright’s mother became ill, Wright and his brother were sent to an orphanage. When she recovered the family moved to her sister’s house in Arkansas but her sister’s husband was murdered by whites and the family had to flee. After his mother had a stroke, Wright lived first with an aunt and uncle and then with his grandmother. His schooling initially suffered but when he was finally able to attend regularly, he did well and did some writing. However, because of the family’s financial situation, he had to drop out again. He moved to Chicago where he worked as a postal clerk till he lost that job during the Depression. He joined the Communist Party and started writing again, completing his first novel in 1935, though it was not published till after his death.
After quarrelling with the Communist Party, he left Chicago and moved to New York, where he edited the Daily Worker. Unable to get his novel published, he was able to get his stories published in a collection called Uncle Tom’s Children. This book had some success and led to a Guggenheim Fellowship, which gave him time to write Native Son, his best-known novel. He also got married but he and his wife separated on their honeymoon and divorced. Native Son was the first book by an African-American to be selected as a Book of the Month Club choice and had much success, though it was criticized by both whites and blacks for its portrayal of violence. His autobiography Black Boy also had much success.
After the war, Wright moved to Paris, where he became friends with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Gertrude Stein and later became a French citizen. He also travelled extensively, including in Africa and Asia, where he became interested in Japanese haiku poetry. However, in Africa, he became ill with dysentery and his health deteriorated. He died of a heart attack in 1952, though his daughter, Julia, claims he was murdered. Though not read as much as he used to be, he will remembered for bringing African-American issues to the fore in literature and for his uncompromising stand against racism.
1938 Uncle Tom’s Children: Four Novellas (later: Uncle Tom’s Children: Five Long Stories)
1940 Native Son (novel)
1941 Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the U.S.
1941 Native Son (drama) (with Paul Green)
1945 Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth (autobiography)
1951 Native Son (screenplay
1953 The Outsider (novel)
1954 Savage Holiday (novel)
1954 Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos
1956 The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (nonfiction)
1957 Pagan Spain: A Report of a Journey into the Past (nonfiction)
1957 White Man, Listen! (nonfiction)
1958 The Long Dream (novel)
1961 Eight Men (short stories)
1963 Lawd Today (novel)
1968 Letters to Joe C. Brown,
1971 The Man Who Lived Underground (novella)
1977 American Hunger (autobiography)
1978 The Richard Wright Reader
1994 Rite of Passage
1998 Haiku: This Other World
2007 Big Boy Leaves Home