American short story writer and novelist, whose best known work, NATIVE SON, appeared in 1940. The book immediately established Wright as an important author and a spokesman on conditions facing African-Americans. It gained a large multiracial readership and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Wright's works drew on the poverty and segregation of his childhood in the South and early adulthood in Chicago.
“And, curiously, he felt that he was something, somebody, precisely and simply because of that cold threat of death. The terror of the white world had left no doubt in him about his worth; in fact, that white world had guaranteed his worth in the most brutal and dramatic manner. Most surely he was was something, in the eyes of the white world, or it would not have threatened him as it had. That white world, then, threatened as much as it beckoned. Though he did not know it, he was fatally in love with that white world, in love in a way that could never be cured. That white world's attempt to curb him dangerously and irresponsibly claimed him for its own.” (from The Long Dream, 1958)
Richard Wright was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi. His grandparents had been slaves and his father, Nathaniel, who was an illiterate sharecropper and mill worker, left home when Richard was six. Wright grew up in poverty, staying often at homes of relatives. His mother, Ella Wilson, was a schoolteacher; she moved with her family to Memphis, where she found employment as a cook. In 1915-16 Wright attended school for a few months, but his mother's illness forced him to leave. He attended school sporadically, lived in Arkansas with his aunt Maggie and uncle Silas, who was murdered, and in Mississippi. In his childhood Wright was often beaten. However, he continued to teach himself, secretly borrowing books from the whites-only library in Memphis. “My days and nights were one long, quiet, continuously contained dream of terror, tension, and anxiety,” he later wrote in his autobiography BLACK BOY (1945).