the native son


By the time he sailed to France from New York in 1947, Richard Wright was a star, fixed in the literary firmament. Two of his books – Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945) – had risen high in the US best-seller lists, and were being translated into European languages. In Paris, Wright was aggrandized by the reigning intelligentsia: he and his wife became friendly with Simone de Beauvoir (Ellen Wright would later act as Beauvoir’s agent), and to a lesser extent with the non-English-speaking Sartre and other members of the Temps Modernes circle. Boris Vian borrowed the grisly mechanism of Native Son – black boy kills white girl, then kills another girl – for his scandalous novel J’irai cracher sur vos tombes, which he published under the pen name “Vernon Sullivan”, who was allegedly a black American. The success of his books, and a shrewd property investment in Greenwich Village, had made Wright prosperous. A photograph of the early 1950s shows the family at the table in their well-appointed flat in rue Monsieur le Prince, being attended by a uniformed maid. Except for one brief visit during the making of a film of Native Son, in which the forty-one-year-old Wright took the role of his teenage anti-hero Bigger Thomas, he never returned to the United States. Wright was a true “black first”: a cosmopolitan writer and intellectual with popular appeal.

As soon as the lights went down on the welcoming party, the star began its decline

more from the TLS here.