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Wright, Richard (1908–1960)

Michael Zeitler


Born into poverty on a plantation outside of Natchez, Mississippi, the grandson of slaves and son of a sharecropper, Richard Wright battled economic deprivation and racism to become one of the twentieth century's most celebrated novelists. The 1940 publication of his most famous work, Native Son , a tense, dramatic story of a young black male's struggle against the racism, poverty, and injustices institutionalized throughout the economic, political, legal, and social structures of white America, catapulted Wright to instantaneous fame as a writer and set an agenda of protest literature for a generation of black novelists to follow. Abandoned by his father when he was six and left to the care of an invalid mother, Wright spent a largely nomadic childhood among relatives in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. As a child, he not only experienced hunger and abuse, but the terrors of the Ku Klux Klan and the daily humiliations of life under Jim Crow. “My days and nights were one long, quiet, continuously contained dream of terror, tension, and anxiety,” he would later recall in his classic 1945 autobiography Black Boy. Constantly moving or having to help support his family, he received little formal education. Nevertheless, through constant reading Wright educated him self, even publishing his first piece of short fiction at age 15 in the Southern Register , a local black newspaper. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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