Richard Wright

On this date in 1908, Richard Wright was born in Natchez, Mississippi, to Nathaniel Wright, a sharecropper, and Ella Wilson, a schoolteacher. Wright was raised primarily by his mother after his father abandoned the family when he was 5. Although he left school after the ninth grade to help support the family, it was apparent fairly early that he had writing talent.

He published his first short story, “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre,” in an African-American newspaper when he was 16. In 1927 he moved to Chicago and found work in the post office but had to resort to temporary jobs once the Great Depression descended on the U.S.

Wright rejected American capitalism and joined the Communist Party in 1932. He began publishing essays, short stories and poems in various left-leaning journals. In 1937 he moved to New York City, where he eventually became an editor for the Daily Worker and New Challenge. In 1938 and 1940 respectively, he published Uncle Tom’s Children and Native Son, two of his most prominent works. Wright married Dhima Rose Meadman in 1939 but they soon divorced. In 1941 he married Ellen Poplar, with whom he had two daughters.

He grew disillusioned with the Communist Party and left it in 1944. He continued to write, producing Black Boy, an account of his early experiences as an African-American, in 1945. Tired of the prevalence of blatant racism in the U.S., he and his family relocated to France in 1947. He remained there for the rest of his life and published several more works, though they did not achieve the same recognition as his earlier works. He died at age 52 of a heart attack in 1960.

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