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LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION
Richard Wright had established himself as a writer much before he started work on his autobiography. He had penned numerous articles, short stories, plays and novels like Native Son, Cesspool, Black Hope and The Man who lived Underground. As a sensitive, talented and conscientious citizen, he got incited to transfer the struggles and sufferings of his life into the pages of a book. However, these writings were a reflection of his life but not a true copy of it. In Black Boy he poured out his heart and sincerely and poignantly narrated the saga of his life. Through this book, he reached out to the people across the world about the plight of the Negroes in America.
In 1943, Richard had gone to Nashville to deliver a lecture on racism at the University of Fisk. He had addressed the students confidently and recounted his true experiences to them expecting an enthusiastic response but he was disappointed when they reacted negatively to his talk. Dejected but not disheartened, he decided to recount his experiences in an autobiography. Thus, American Hunger was created. Initially it was given the title of Black Confession and sent to his agent Paul Reynolds. It was divided into two sections. The first part was named as "Southern Nights" as it dealt with his life in the South. The second part entitled "The Horror and the Glory" related his life in Chicago in the 1930ís with particular reference to his experience with the Communist party.
The Book club accepted Black Boy formally on August 1944 and scheduled to release it the following spring. Wright worked with Dorothy Canfield Fisher of the club to write the concluding pages of the book. Richard expressed satisfaction with the finished book but hinted that the second section could not be released because of pressure from the Communist party. However, selections from "The Horror and the Glory" kept appearing in journals like Atlantic Monthly, Mademoiselle and Cross Section under the titles "I Tried to Be a Communist", "American Hunger", and "Early Days in Chicago" respectively.
By January 19, 1946, Black Boy had sold 195,000 copies in the Harper trade edition and 351,000 copies through the Book-Of- the-Month club. It was declared the fourth best-selling non- fiction title of 1945. In 1977, seventeen years after his death, Harper and Row published the second section under the title American Hunger. In 1993, Harper Perennial published both sections of the book in its original form under the title Black Boy. The New Republic declared the book as a "major event in American literary history." Through the book, Richard Wright opened the eyes of the people around the world, towards the lives of the Negroes in America.