Richard Nathaniel Wright (September 4, 1908 – November 28, 1960) was an African-American author of sometimes controversial novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. Much of his literature concerns racial themes, especially those involving the plight of African-Americans during the late 19th to mid-20th centuries.
Richard Wright wrote The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre, his first story, when he was fifteen. It was published by The Southern Register, a newspaper for African-Americans.
Wright's novel, Native Son, was the first book by an African-American writer chosen as a selection by the Book of the Month Club. The book was turned into a Broadway play directed by Orson Welles in 1941.
Wright wrote an autobiography, Black Boy, which describes how his father leaving effected his mother. She was never healthy in life and actually became completely paralyzed by the time Wright had turned 10 years old.
His grandmother discouraged his reading and listening to the radio. These limitations did not stop Wright. Wright found a job in Memphis and was introduced to H.L. Mencken’s writings, which sparked Wright’s writing ambitions.
The year 1938 was a busy year for Wright. "Uncle Tom's Children" was published to wide acclaim and "Bright and Morning Star" appeared in New Masses. Wright would also join that magazine's editorial board.
In 1947, a Hollywood producer offered to film Native Son, but wanted to change Bigger Thomas to a white man. Wright refused and played Thomas himself in a Argentinian film adaption of the novel.
Black Boy was not complete when it was originally published. Its original second section, in which Wright chronicled his encounter with racism in the North, his apprenticeship as a writer, and his disillusionment with the Communist Party, was cut at the insistence of book club editors.
"The Outsider...based on Wright's final, corrected typescript, casts new light on his development of the style he called "poetic realism." The "outsider" of Wright's story is Cross Damon, a black man who works in the Chicago post office. When Damon is mistakenly believed to have died in a subway accident, he seizes the opportunity to invent a new life for himself."
Wright loved pulp fiction. When he was fourteen he avidly read Flynn's Detective Weekly and Argosy All-Story Magazine.
As a teenager Wright forged a letter and gave it to the Memphis Public Library. African-Americans were not allowed to check out books without permission. He received H.L. Mencken's A Book of Prefaces.