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Richard N. Wright
*Richard Nathaniel Wright was born on this date in 1908. He was a Black writer.
Wright was born outside of Natchez, Mississippi. His father left the family when Wright was young and soon after, his mother, a schoolteacher, was stricken with a paralyzing illness. Raised mostly by relatives, Wright quit school at 15, moving to Memphis.
There he worked at odd jobs and began a process of self-education, having a white friend borrow books for him from the segregated public library. During the 1930s, Wright wrote and edited projects for the Federal Writers' Project in Chicago. Wright’s first book, Uncle Tom's Children won first prize in a writing competition sponsored by the Writers’ Project. In 1937 Wright moved to New York City.
After winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1939, Wright completed his novel Native Son. The book explores the violent psychological pressures that drive Bigger Thomas, a young black man, to murder. Native Son was an immediate sensation with white and Black readers, and this wide appeal helped make Wright the first Black writer to have a bestseller. Orson Welles directed its stage production. Wright moved to France in the late 1940s. Wright also produced a considerable body of nonfiction.
His first autobiographical work, Black Boy, reveals in bitter personal terms the devastating impact of racial prejudice on young Black males in the United States. In 1941 Wright collaborated with photographer Edwin Rosskam on 12 Million Black Voices, a folk history of Blacks in America. Wright publicly opposed racial prejudice and was perhaps the most eloquent spokesperson in the United States for his generation of Black people. His novels and short stories helped redefine discussions of race relations in America in the mid-20th century. Richard Wright died in 1960.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York