The Man Who Was Almost a Man | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Richard Wright | Biography

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Early Life

Richard Wright was born on September 4, 1908, in rural Mississippi. His father's absence and his mother's ill health meant that Wright and his younger brother, Alan, spent most of their childhood moving around the Deep South to live with various relatives.

Wright was a good student, but as early as age 10 he began working a series of odd jobs to help support his family. He finished ninth grade in May 1925 at the top of his class, but he left school shortly afterward to find steady work. Despite his formal education being cut short, Wright was a voracious reader and continued to study independently.

Becoming an Author

In 1927 Wright moved to the South Side of Chicago and worked briefly for the postal service. He became affiliated with the Communist Party in 1932, and between 1932 and 1937 he wrote and published poetry, stories, and essays in communist journals and mainstream publications. Communism is an authoritarian form of government where the government controls the means of economic production.

Wright's first book, Uncle Tom's Children (1938), helped establish his reputation as a voice for the poorest and most marginalized African American communities. He went on to publish many more books, essays, and poems, but he remains best known for the novel Native Son (1940) and the memoir Black Boy (1945). His work became associated with black existentialism, a literary movement focused on black empowerment.

Later Life and Legacy

The novel Black Boy cemented respect for Richard Wright in literary circles in the United States, but by the time of its publication, he had grown disenchanted with white America and moved to Paris, France. He remained in France until his death on November 28, 1960, but throughout his life he continued to write novels examining race relations in the country he had left behind. Wright was a role model and mentor for African American writers, including James Baldwin (1924–87), many of whom emulated his style and carried on his example. His legacy persists, especially through his portrayals of black Americans' struggle to make a place for themselves in the United States.

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