Issue Date: April 9, 2009
City: Chicago, IL
Richard Wright (1908-1960) exposed racism in terms “bankers’ daughters would not be able to read and feel good about... so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”
Themes drawn from his impoverished Mississippi childhood and Chicago’s inner city reflect the pervasive racism Wright encountered during his life. Wright’s "Native Son" was the first best selling novel by a black writer, receiving critical acclaim and establishing him as the “Father of Black Literature.”
Wright joined Chicago’s Communist party and contributed several “revolutionary” poems to The New Masses magazine of the party. Faced with racial discrimination even there, Wright left the party. He chronicled his frustration in an essay entitled "I Tried to Be a Communist." It was followed by "Black Boy," an emotional account of Wright’s Southern childhood.
Disillusioned by America, Wright moved to France in 1947 and died in Paris in 1960. Interest in his work was renewed in the mid-1960s with the emergence of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. By the 1980s, many of Wright’s novels became required reading in American colleges and universities.