Books That Made a Difference

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

Native Son

Background

  • Born in 1908, near Natchez, Mississippi, the son of a millworker and a teacher.   All four of his grandparents were born in slavery.
  • Married twice; two daughters with his second wife, Ellen Poplar.
  • Spent his later career in Paris, where he died of a heart attack in 1960; buried at Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris.

Career

  • Worked as clerk at the U. S. Post Office in Chicago during the 1920s; associated with the WPA Federal Writers; Project in Chicago and New York City, 1935-37.
  • Joined the Communist Party in the early 1930s; broke with them three years' later over the issue of his freedom as a writer.
  • Friends in the 1930-40s art community included Ralph Ellison (future author of invisible Man and best man at Wright's wedding), Langston Hughes, Countee cullen, Nelson Algren, John Hammond, Carson McCullers, and John Steinbeck.
  • Awarded Spingarn Medal from NAACP in 1940 for Native Son.
  • Contributed articles, essays, short stories, and poems to magazines and newspapers, including Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Review, New Republic, Negro Digest, Daily Worker, New York World Telegram, and New Masses,.
  • Published an autobiography, Black Boy, in 1945.
  • Important works collected in a two-volume Library of America edition in 1992, with authoritative biographical notes and chronology by Arnold Rampersad.

Major Writings

Uncle Tom's Children: Four Novellas (1938)
Native Son (1940)
Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth (1945)
The Outsider (1953)
Savage Holiday (1954)
Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (1954)
The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (1956)
The Long Dream (1987)
The Man Who Lived Underground (1971)
American Hunger (1977)


Critical Sources and Reviews

  • Biographical and critical information in multiple volumes of the following Gale publications: Contemporary Literary Criticism, including CLC 1, 1973; 3, 1975; 4, 1975; 9, 1978; 14, 1980; 21, 1982; 48, 1988; 74, 1993; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Vol. 76: Afro-American Writers, 1940-1955; and Black Literature Criticism, Gale, 1992.  Gale publications can be accessed online through a subscribing library at www.galenet.com.
  • Other printed resources include:

    Richard Wright's Native Son, Harold Bloom, ed.
    The Critical Response to Richard Wright, Robert Butler
    Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left Bank, James Campbell
    The Black American Fiction Writer: Fiction Volume One, Bigsby, C. W. E. ed.
    The Art of Richard Wright, Edward Margolies
    Richard Wright: A Collection of Critical Essays, Arnold Rampersad, ed.
    Richard Wright: a Biography, Constance Webb

  • Some reviews of Native Son:
    • Atlantic Monthly, May, 1940.
    • New York Times Book Review, March 3, 1940.
    • Saturday Review, March 2, 1940.
  • Useful online reviews available in the New York Times Books Archive:
    • Reviews of Rampersad's Richard Wright: Early Works; January 1, 1992 (Herbert Mitgang); December 29, 1991 (Alfred Kazin).
    • Reviews of Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left Bank; February 13, 1995 (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt); February 19, 1995 (Deirdre Bair).


Retired Discussion Series



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