Richard Wright, Chicago’s “Native Son” – Guest Post by Michelle from That’s What She Read

When Jen asked me if I wanted to help out with her Chicago Author Month, I jumped at the chance. Having spent the large majority of my formative years in the Chicago suburbs, I relished the chance to support authors from the area, as well as share my love for all things Chicago. Yet, when Jen showed me the list of authors she was hoping to highlight, I was shocked by one name that appeared on the list – Richard Wright. I had read his autobiography, “Black Boy,” in high school and do not remember anything about Chicago in there. Was this really true? Yes, Richard Wright is definitely a Chicago author.

He fled to Chicago after leaving Memphis in 1927. Even though he lived there for ten years, he made his mark on the city, and the city made its mark on him. It was there that he truly started writing, thanks to the Federal Writers’ Project. He joined the Communist Party and wrote articles and stories for both the New Masses and the Daily Worker. Both of these actions would influence his most seminal work, “Native Son,” published in 1940.

Set in Chicago, “Native Son” confronts the issue of race head-on with his stereotypical depiction of Bigger Thomas. Eventually made into both a Broadway play and a movie, experts believe “Native Son” to be one of the galvanizing forces behind black leaders and helped break a path for future protests. His portrayal of race relations literally changed the way Americans viewed them forever.

Never a city to shy away from a fight, or a scandal, Mr. Wright used Chicago as the backdrop for a novel that set in motion the racial conflicts and changes that shaped the nation in the 1950s and 60s. The experience he gathered writing for the Communist Party gave rise to his talent and comfort level at sharing the starkness of his experiences with the world. Without his time in Chicago, Mr. Wright might not have been able to accomplish nor influence generations as he did. Chicago should definitely be proud to consider Richard Wright on of its own.

Michelle is the blogger behind That’s What She Read and is always working at the balance between career, blog, and family. In addition to this post, she is also reviewing “Black Boy” today.

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6 comments to Richard Wright, Chicago’s “Native Son” – Guest Post by Michelle from That’s What She Read

  • This book was in the 1001 Books You must Read Before You Die, so I tried it, but I could not get into it. I think I made it about 50 pages before I decided that I was done. I think it was great for what it did, but not something that I could get into. I would be interested in finding out more about him because he was such an influential man.

    • Really? That’s too bad. We had to read it during the summer before junior year of high school – clearly there were no book banners at our school, since it includes rape and murder – but I loved it and have reread it a couple of times.

    • If Native Son is anything like Black Boy, I can see why it might turn some people off of it. Black Boy is brutal in its harshness. Still, it is a great, honest portrayal of what occurred. Wright was extremely successful at taking the issue of race relations and exposing them to everyone, regardless of comfort level.

  • I wasn’t aware of the Richard Wright/Chicago connection either but I’ve had Native Son on my shelves to reread for quite some time now. Thanks for reminding me again that I meant to reread it.

    • Kathleen – I really did do a double-take to make sure he belonged on the list! Now that I’ve re-read Black Boy, I relish the opportunity to read Native Son.

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