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Richard Wright
Richard Wright with his son in Memphis, Tennessee.

Ed Clark/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

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Richard Wright, (1908-1960), is often considered the most important African American writer of his time. He earned a reputation for artistic excellence and outspoken criticism of racial discrimination.

Wright gained his reputation as a result of four books written early in his career. UNCLE TOM'S CHILDREN (1938), in its first edition, consists of four stories set in the South about black males who are victims of racial violence. Wright's first novel, NATIVE SON, (1940), tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a 19-year-old Chicago black who accidentally commits murder. Bigger is pursued, tried, and sentenced to death. The novel condemns the racial injustice that creates an environment forcing Bigger into crime. Wright warns that this environment threatens to produce new Biggers. Wright's 12 MILLION BLACK VOICES (1941) is a pictorial history of blacks in the United States. BLACK BOY (1945) is Wright's story of his childhood and youth in Mississippi and Tennessee.

Wright also wrote poetry, as well as nonfiction about his ideas and experiences. WHITE MAN, LISTEN! (1957) is a collection of some of his important essays. Wright explains why he abandoned Communism in an essay in an anthology of writings by former Communists called THE GOD THAT FAILED (1949). He continued his autobiography in AMERICAN HUNGER (published in 1977, after his death).

Wright was born on Sept. 4, 1908, near Natchez, Mississippi. He died on Nov. 28, 1960.

Nellie Y. McKay, Ph.D., Former Professor of American and Afro-American Literature, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on Richard Wright and related subjects.


The American Novel