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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Richard Nathaniel Wright was born on September 4, 1908. He was the first child of Nathan Wright, an illiterate sharecropper, and Ella Wilson, a school-teacher. A few years later, his brother Leon was born. In 1913, his family moved to Memphis where his father worked as a night porter. Their secure life got a jolt when Mr. Wright deserted his family to live with another woman. Mrs. Wright had to shoulder the responsibility of looking after herself and her two children.
Richard had interrupted school education because of the insecurity at home. In early 1916, after a setback in his motherís health, the family shifted to Jackson. For a short while, Richard went to Greenwood to live with one of his Uncles. However, the stifling atmosphere of his Uncleís house made him return back to Jackson.
Life at Jackson was no bed of roses. Religious discipline, rigid rules and punishment threatened the existence of Richard and he yearned for freedom. School and outside work provided release from this atmosphere. Thus Richard continued his studies undaunted and reached the ninth grade. To support himself, he worked at different places in his spare time. In 1925, he entered Lamier High school for higher education but quit a few weeks later to earn his living. After saving enough money, he left for Memphis.
In Memphis, he got a paying guest accommodation with a family at 570, Beale Street. After working as a dishwasher and a delivery boy for a short while, he secured a job in Merry Optical company. By now he had started reading several magazines like Harperís Atlanta Monthly and The American Mercury. Reading articles and stories fired his imagination and developed an urge to write in him.
In December 1927, he left for Chicago with his aunt, Maggie. After occupying a rooming house, Richard found a job as a porter in a delicatessen. Shortly afterwards, he wrote the Postal Clerical examination and later, took up a job as dishwasher in a Café. After he was successful in the examination, he found himself employed as a temporary clerk in the Post office. However, he had to quit the job when he was declared underweight during the medical examination. Richard got employed in the Café once again.
In 1929, he passed both the written and the medical examination of the Postal service and was hired as a substitute clerk and mail-sorter by the Central post office at Clark street and Jackson Boulevard. Secure in his job, he moved with his family to a four-room apartment in Vincennes Avenue. He continued his reading and made new acquaintances. He joined a few literary and nationalistic groups but left them after he was disillusioned by their ideas.
After the Wall Street crash that same year, he lost his job at the Post office. To make matters worse, his mother suffered a relapse, Aunt Cleo had a heart attack and Leon developed stomach ulcers. The harsh realities of life compelled Richard to pour out his feelings in a book. Thus in 1930, he began writing Cesspool, based on Black life in Chicago. The following year, his story Superstition got published in Abbotís Monthly Magazine. Around this time, he secured a job as an Insurance agent for several Burial societies.
In 1932, his family shifted to a smaller apartment in a slum area as Richardís income through insurance dwindled. The next year, he took up a job, as a helper, at the Michael Reese Hospital. During this time, he also joined the John Reed club and read its journal New Masses and International Literature. He started contributing poems to the magazine.
In 1934, Richard was forced to join the Communist party to consolidate his position in the John Reed club. Shortly afterwards, he was appointed as a member of the editorial board of Left Front. To make living possible, he worked as a street sweeper but continued reading books by reputed authors. He also contributed poems to revolutionary magazines. In April 1935, he attended the American Writerís Congress in New York and became a member of the newly formed League of American Writers. His poem Between the World got published in Partisan Review. He also started work on his story Big Boy Leaves Home. Richardís talent got recognized and he won the second prize for his article Avant-Garde Writing in a contest organized by the two literary magazines. Around this time, Richard was hired by the Federal Writerís Project to help research the history of Illinois and of the Negro in Chicago, for the Illinois volume of the American Guide Series. In 1936, his poem Transcontinental was published in the January issue of International Literature. The next year, a few more of his poems like We on the Streets and Silt got published. By now Richard was completely disillusioned with the Communist party and its attitude. He thus, severed all connections with it.
Career wise, Richard was doing well. He stood first in the Postal Service examination and was offered a permanent post at a salary of $ 2000. However, he had to decline the offer to pursue his career in New York. Thus by mid June, he settled down in New York and attended the American Writerís congress. Shortly afterwards, he became the editor of Daily Worker, a Communist newspaper and contributed two hundred articles to it in a single year. Along with two friends, he launched the magazine New Challenge, presenting Black life and racial prejudice. He published articles in several magazines and won the first prize for his story Fire and Cloud in Story Magazine contest. He also joined the New York Federal Writerís project.
In 1938, his book Uncle Tomís Children, was published by Harper and Brothers. In October of that same year, Harper accepted his novel Native Son. Early in 1939, he was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship. The same year, he struck friendship with Ellen Poplar, the daughter of Polish Jewish Immigrant and a Communist Party organizer in Brooklyn and intended marrying her. However, he was soon attracted to a Russian-Jewish dance teacher called Dhima Rose Meadman and married her in August 1939.
More recognition came for Richard. Native Son sold 215,000 copies and was chosen for stage adaptation. In July 1940, Richard was elected as the vice-president of the League of American Writers and American Peace Mobilization. Early in 1941, he received the Spingarn medal for his contribution to literature by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Richard divorced Dhima Rose and married his good friend, Ellen Poplar on March 12, 1941. Native Son got released in the theatre and received favorable reviews. Richard acted the part of a social reformer when he succeeded in getting reprieve for a black singer called Clinton Brewer who had been charged for murder. His creativity got a boost as he finished writing The Man who lived Underground and started work on Black Hope.
On April 15, 1942, Richard became the father of a girl, Julia. The new addition to the family did not stop him from continuing his work as a reformer. In 1943, he delivered a lecture on racism at the University of Fisk, Nashville. Richard was hurt when the audience reacted negatively to the speech. He felt a desire to transfer his ideas on the paper through his autobiography. Thus he began writing American Hunger. During this time, he struck friendship with a Trotskyist historian, C.L.R.James and wrote a series of radio programs on the life of a black family.
The Book of the Month club accepted the first part of American Hunger. Richard changed the title of the book to Black Boy and sent it for publication. By January 1946, Black Boy had sold 195,000 copies and declared the fourth best-selling non-fiction title of 1945. In August 1947, Richard moved to Paris with his wife and daughter. The city honored him by giving him the Critics award for the French translation of Black Boy. Soon, he became the unofficial spokesman for African-American colony in Paris. During this time, he got interested in Existentialism and started reading books on the subject. On January 17, 1949, his second daughter, Rachael was born. A happy family man, Richard progressed as a writer too. By 1952, he finished writing The Outsider and started working on a novel based on his encounter with Clinton Brewer. In the next few years, Richard was travelling a lot, giving lectures, attending conferences, doing research and publishing articles. In 1957, Pagan Spain was published. The same year in October, White Man, Listen! A collection of essays drawn from Wrightís lectures was ready for publication. A year later, The Long Dream got published. All these books received a mixed response from the public.
On January 14, 1959, Richard lost his mother. To add to his personal loss, bad reviews, poor health, and financial problems haunted him. He decided to migrate to England and thus sold his properties in Paris. However, he was denied a resident visa in Britain. So, he stayed back in Paris, while his family moved over to London. In June that year, he fell ill after an attack of Amoebic dysentery and was treated at the American hospital.
The Long Dream opened on the Broadway in 1960 but received poor response. Ill health and the negative response of the American government and the critics made Richard bitter. He refused to attend conferences abroad and became a recluse. He completed writing Eight Men, a collection of short stories and started work on A Fatherís Law. He kept writing till he breathed his last on November 26, 1960. Two days later he was cremated with a copy of Black Boy. Richard Wright lived and died for the cause of the Negroes.