Richard Nathaniel Wright was a famous author and poet of the 20th century. He was born on September 4, 1908 in Mississippi and raised by his mother, as his father had left the family when Wright was 6 years old. His mother also suffered from a stroke, as a result of which Wright had to go live with his uncle for some time. After being reunited with his mother, they moved to Jackson, Mississippi in order to live with his grandmother. By the age of 12, he had not even finished a single year of schooling. In Jackson, he was enrolled in public school where he excelled and was selected as class valedictorian. The principal tried to manipulate him into giving a pre prepared speech, and even tried to get his uncle to change his mind but Wright refused to oblige and gave his own speech, the way he wanted. He only ended up studying till 9th grade due to financial pressures.
He took a deep interest in reading and writing, and would spend hours at the library, borrowing books on a white classmate’s stolen card as blacks were not allowed to use the public libraries back then. He published his first story at the age of 15 in a local African American newspaper. In 1927, he moved to Chicago hoping that he would be able to get his stories published there. Here he undertook a series of odd jobs. After being fired from his job as a postal clerk, he was faced with utter poverty. He joined a local organization called “John Reed Clubs” which led him to became involved with the Communist party. He formally joined their ranks in 1933. He continued to write and also joined the Federal Writers’ Project. He published numerous poems for the party as well.
In Chicago, Richard Wright published his first novel called “Cesspool” and then a story by the name of “Big Boy Leaves Home”. He also served as the editor for a Communist publication called “Left Front” as well as being a contributor to “The New Masses” magazine. He then had a falling out with the communist party and moved to New York in 1937. He became one of the editors at a newspaper called the “Daily Worker”. He gained public attention with “Uncle Tom’s Children” which was a collection of four short stories. This publication was very successful and earned Wright a favorable reputation and also enabled him to secure himself financially. Having won a Guggenheim Fellowship, he started working on his next novel titled “Native Son” which was published in 1940. This was selected by the Book of the Month club, the first novel by an African American to receive this distinction.
In 1946, Richard Wright moved to France where he became friends with the famous authors Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. He became a French citizen and traveled throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. Here he wrote many novels such as “The Outsider” in 1953, “The Long Dream” in 1958, “Black Power” in 1954 and “White Man, Listen!” in 1957. Till the end of his life, he continued to challenge the status quo, indulging in lectures and radio discussions and writing articles to serve his purpose. Later in his life he started writing haiku poetry and wrote over 4000 such poems. He died of a heart attack on November 28, 1960 in Paris at the age of 52.