Richard Wright

Brief Bio of Richard Wright 

Wright was named in the late 1930s to the literature editorial board of New Masses, and was denounced by the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities investigating the Federal Writers’ Project. In 1940 Wright’s Native Son became an instant best-seller. In some bookstores stock was sold out within hours; the novel sold 215,000 copies in the first three weeks.

In 1949 Wright joined George Plimpton and others in founding the Paris Review. He acted in the film based on the novel Native Son – the American release was not successful and the film was banned in several cities. Wright’s existentialist novel THE OUTSIDER (1952), depicting a black intellectual’s search for identity, received mixed reviews. It was praised mostly in Europe. In Paris Wright was not treated like in the American South, but he gradually lost touch with his inspiration, or “the rhythms of his life”.

During his years in France, Wright spent much of his time supporting nationalist movements in Africa. In 1953 he travelled in Africa, gathering material for BLACK POWER (1954), and witnessing the rise of the Pan-African movement. Among his other works in the 1950s were SAVAGE HOLIDAY (1954), about a white man caught in a web of violence, THE COLOR CURTAIN (1956), about Asia, PAGAN SPAIN (1957), a travel book of a Catholic country full of contradictions, and WHITE MAN, LISTEN! (1958), a collection of lectures on racial injustice. Wright’s last short story, ‘Big Black Good Man’, which originally was published in Esquire and was collected in EIGHT MEN (1961), was set in Copenhangen and dealt with prejudices. THE LONG DREAM (1958), a novel set in Mississippi, had a poor reception. Its sequel, Island of Hallucination, set in Paris, was not published. “Everything in the book happened, but I’ve twisted characters so that people won’t recognise them,” said Wright to his agent. AMERICAN HUNGER, a sequel to Black Boy, appeared in 1977.

Wright distanced in the last years of his life from his associates. He suffered from poor health and financial difficulties and grew suspicious about the activities of CIA in Paris – in which he was right. Wright’s plans to move to London were rejected by the British officials. In 1959 he began composing haiku, producing almost four thousand of them. Wright died nearly penniless at the age of fifty-two in Paris, on November 28, 1960. At his request, his body was cremated and his ashes mixed with the ashes of a copy of Black Boy. Wright’s daughter Julia has claimed that his father was murdered. Upon his death, Wright left behind an unfinished book on French West Africa. His travel writings, edited by Virginia Whatley Smith, appeared in 2001.

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