Friday, September 4, 2020

Author Birthday [September] : Richard Wright

#AuthorBirthday is a monthly feature, in which I highlight one author each month, mostly the ones I have not yet read. Part of the aim is to get familiar with the author and (hopefully) encourage me to start reading his/her work.

For September, please welcome:


Richard Nathaniel Wright is an American writer. His most notable novel is Native Son, but besides novels, he also wrote short stories, poems, and non-fictions, mostly on racial injustice theme.

Born at Rucker's Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi in 4 September 1908, Wright is the son of Nathan Wright, a sharecroppers, and Ella Wilson, a school teacher. Both parents were born free after Civil War, though Wright's grandparents had both been born into slavery, and had only been freed after the war.

Nathan Wright left the family when Richard was six years old, so his mother moved Richard and his younger brother to their grandparents' house. Richard accidentally put the house on fire, for which his mother beat him until he's unconscious. His childhood was quite hurly burly with a lot of moving, and never enough time to get a proper education. The Wrights moved in next to Richard's Uncle Silas' house in the Mississippi Delta. However, not long after, they were forced to move out again after Uncle Silas "dissapeared", reportedly being killed by a white man who envied his successful salon business. :(

Richard then lived briefly with his other uncle after his mother got stroke, but the family eventually returned to Natchez, to the grandparents' house, who were, by the way, still mad at Richard for burning their house, and often beat him. On the positive side, however, here Richard had chance at last to attend proper schooling after twelve years. He excelled at school, though lived quite miserably under control of his pious aunt and grandma who forced him to pray to God. This treatment made him grew with hatred against Christianity in his entire life.

Richard's literary career began when he wrote his first short story at fifteen years old and got it published in the local Black newspaper. As the class valedictorian of his high school, Richard was assigned a paper to be delivered in the graduation in 1925. However, the principal later asked him instead to read a prepared speech, as "to avoid offending the white school district officials". Richard insisted to read his own paper, which he did, despite the school's threat to deny his graduation. Bravo, Richard!

Richard must ended his education, however, to support his mother and brother. And so, his childhood in Mississippi has wrought a bitter impressions of American racial, which later on influenced his writing. The family then moved to Chicago in the Great Migration. He worked as postal clerk, but then fired during the Great Depression in 1931. Richard completed his first novel: Cesspool in 1935, after joining the Communist Party in 1933. But the novel wasn't published until 1963, posthumously, and retitled: Lawd Today. He also wrote critical essays and poetry, and became editor for Communis Party magazine.

In 1938, in the same year that Richard developed a friendship with writer Ralph Ellison, Harper publishing company publised his first short stories collection: Uncle Tom's Children, which finally brought him his first national attention. Ralph Ellison became his best man when Richard married a Russian-Jewish modern dance teacher named Dhimah Rose Meidman. Unfortunately, the marriage only lasted one year. He married the second time with Ellen Poplar, a Communist organizer in Brooklyn - a marriage which was blessed with two daughters: Julia and Rachel.

With growing status and financial condition after Uncle Tom's Children, the Wrights moved to Harlem, where Richard wrote Native Son (published in 1940). It was a huge success, and was actually selected by Book of the Month Club, making it the first book by African-American author ever been selected. Native Son was also staged in Broadway in March 1941 with favorable reviews, as the result of Richard's collaboration with a playwright named Paul Green. Richard's memoir: Black Boy was published in 1945, a year before he moved to Paris, which instantly became a best-seller. In Paris he befriended Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, under whose influences, Richard became an existentialist, which inspired his second novel: The Outsider.

In 1955 Richard attended the Asian-African Conference (Bandung Conference) held in Bandung, Indonesia, as reporter. His observations on the conference and Indonesian cultural condition was published under title: The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference. During this visit, he was also invited by Mocthar Lubis, an Indonesian prominent writer, to give two lectures to a Indonesian cultural group: Pen Club Indonesia. Richard later depicted all this in his travelogue.

Near the end of his life, Richard has become an important figure in literary and politics with worldwide reputation. But he still had energy left to publish a collection of lectures: White Man, Listen! in 1957 and The Long Dream, a novel (1958). He died from heart attack in Paris on 28 November 1960, but Julia, his daughter, claimed it was murder. He died without ever finishing his last novel: A Father's Law, which was published posthumously later on by Julia in January 2008. Richard was buried in La Père Lachaise Cemetery. Today his novel Native Son is generally agreed as "a force in the social and intellectual history of the United States in the last half of 20th century".

Have you read anything by Richard Wright? Native Son  perhaps? What do you think of his writing?

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