Richard Wright was an African-American anti-slavery activist whose works portray the racial discrimination against the blacks in the United States of America, especially in the Deep South. He was one of the voices for the black race when racism was still at its peak in the U.S. He spoke openly about the things troubling black people at a time of strong racial prejudice in America. He spoke out strongly in his books, especially in his novel Native Son. His novels are interesting historically, reminiscent of the poems of Claude McKay who wrote of lynchings he witnessed in America. Reading Richard Wright is a salutary reminder of old America, and parallels the difficult political climate under the Trump administration.
Richard Wright was an essayist, a short story writer, poet and novelist who did not care who got offended by his works, and this attitude dated back to when he was in junior high. He excelled in his studies, and in 1923, earned the position of class valedictorian of Smith Robertson junior high school. His peers asked Wright to deliver a speech at the graduation ceremony. But because of his criticism of race politics, the school principal warned him against his speech. His classmates and even his uncle advised him against presenting this controversy in the public auditorium, but Richard was steadfast and stuck to his original speech.
He gained recognition in 1938 for a collection of four short stories titled Uncle Tom’s Children (1938). The book had a good reception which helped to boost Wright’s status and provided financial stability; enough to start writing The Native Son (1940). This strange novel where the main character ‘Bigger Thomas’ was depicted as the white man’s worst fear was possibly Wright’s most controversial novel. Wright was a vociferous and opinionated man who openly attacked the racial discrimination in the United States as he saw it, especially in the deep south and his work reflected his opinions.
Wright was an outspoken representative of black people at a time when racism was at its peak in the U.S. He worked this sense of outrage and revolt into his themes, characters, and plots, and wrote of the issues that were troubling black people in the teeth of slavery and post-slavery. The stories are reminiscent of the poems of Claude McKay who also witnessed lynchings in America. Reading Richard Wright is a reminder of the racial battle lines drawn in America today. His historical reflections mirror the difficult political climate under the current Trump administration.
April 2009, saw Wright featured on a U.S. postage stamp. The stamp which was the 25th installment of the literary arts series shows a portrait of Wright in a scene that recalls the setting of Native Son. He also got The Spingarn Medal in 1941 from the NAACP, The Guggenheim Fellowship in 1939, (based on his collected short stories), and the Story Magazine Award in 1938.
Many of his books and essays were not published because of the violence he portrayed in his writing, and even those that were published got slashed in the editing process. Yet still, they met with criticism. After his death, some of his works have been reissued and the uncut version exposed. Some of these are Black Boy (1945) – one of his best sellers – The Man Who Was Almost A Man (1939), I Choose Exile (1951), The Outsider (1953), The Color Curtain (1956), White Man, Listen (1957) among many others.