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Richard Wright (Richard Nathaniel Wright) Biography

(1908–60), (Richard Nathaniel Wright), The God that Failed, Story, Uncle Tom's Children, Native Son

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African-American short-story writer, novelist, poet, and essayist, born near Natchez, Missouri, and brought up in Memphis; he was self-educated and at the age of 19 went to Chicago, where he held a number of menial jobs. In the 1930s he joined the Communist Party, but left in the 1940s after disillusionment with its procedures, as recorded in the anthology The God that Failed (1950). He worked for the Federal Writers' Project between 1935 and 1937 and received the Story prize for Uncle Tom's Children (1938, enlarged 1940), for the best book submitted by anyone associated with the Project. The collection of stories describes the racial prejudice in the South and contains graphic descriptions of mob lynchings. In 1940 he published Native Son, his most acclaimed work, which established Wright as the pre-eminent black author in the USA. He dramatized the novel with Paul Green in 1941, and in 1950 he made a film of the book in Argentina, with himself in the lead role. He participated in the making of 12 Million Black Voices (1941), a textual and photographic documentary of black history; and published Black Boy (1945), a sophisticated autobiography of his childhood and youth which analyses the treatment of black people in American society. After the Second World War, he became an expatriate in Paris and became involved with the Parisian existentialist circle. He utilized their ideas in the writing of his other acclaimed novel, The Outsider (1953), a sensational novel of a black man's life in Chicago and New York City and his fatal involvement with the Communist Party. Other works followed, many of them devoted to supporting African national independence movements, with Savage Holiday (1954); Black Power (1954), telling of his reactions to Africa's Gold Coast; The Color Curtain (1956), reporting on the Bandung Conference of Asian and African nations; White Man, Listen! (1957); Pagan Spain (1957), some bitter personal observations of Spain; and The Long Dream (1958), a novel about a black boy in Mississippi and his father's corrupt business dealings with both black and white people. Posthumous publications include the short stories in Eight Men (1961); Lawd Today (1963), a novel written before Native Son and dealing with the events of one unhappy day, 12 February 1936, in the life of a black postal clerk in Chicago; and American Hunger (1977), a further autobiography. Although he wrote with a naturalistic style, his works have always demonstrated a concern with the social roots of racial oppression, and he published firmly in the left-wing journals like New Masses and Left Front. He now has the solid reputation of being one of the most influential black American writers of the twentieth century.

[back] Nicholas Wright Biography - (1940– ), Treetops, The Crimes of Vautrin, Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, The Custom of the Country

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