The grandson of a slave and native of Mississippi, Richard Wright will forever be remembered for his books “Black Boy” and “Native Son.” Detailing the African American experience, his work was an important part of the discussion on race relations in the mid-20th century. Wright wrote his first story at the age of 15, titled “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre.” It was published in The Southern Register. He lived with his maternal grandmother in Jackson, then moved to Chicago in 1927. He completed his first novel in 1935, “Cesspool,” later published as “Lawd Today,” and moved to New York two years later. There, he wrote an essay on Harlem for a guidebook to the city and gained national attention for his collection of four short stories titled “Uncle Tom’s Children.” He moved to Harlem in 1938 and began writing “Native Son.”
After the novel’s publication in 1940, Wright would go on to work on a dramatic version of his story with Paul Green at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “Native Son” opened on Broadway the next year, with Orson Welles directing. His semi-autobiographical “Black Boy” was published in 1945. Wright moved to Paris a year later and died there of a heart attack on November 28, 1960, at the age of 52. He’s buried in Le Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
While he died at a relatively young age, Wright led a full life, marrying twice, raising two daughters, joining and breaking with the Communist Party and running in the same circles as other famous writers like Margaret Walker, Ralph Ellison and Jean-Paul Sartre. He is remembered in Natchez, where he spent his childhood with is grandparents in the Woodlawn neighborhood, by a historical marker out front. The highway leading to the home is named in his honor and marks the start of the Natchez Trace. A collection of his travel writings was published by Mississippi University Press in 2001, and he was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 2009.
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