Photo credits: Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Richard Wright (1908-1960) initially gained public prominence in the few years before and after 1940 with a collection of novels.
The book “Uncle Tom’s Children” (1938), a novel written by Wright, was inspired by the question: How can a Black man exist in a society that rejects his humanity? Except in one narrative, the hero’s journey ends in death. In “Native Son,” he relocated his imaginary setting to Chicago, Illinois. Its protagonist, Bigger Thomas, is an impoverished Black adolescent. In the story, Thomas inadvertently murders a white girl.
During his subsequent escape, his previously meaningless sense of white world hostility becomes understandable. The novel sold very well — so well that it was masterfully staged as a Broadway play by Orson Welles in 1941. In a 1951 film feature adaptation shot in Argentina, Wright portrayed Bigger Thomas. Wright was awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal on December 7, 1941.
He was named “one of the most compelling contemporary writers” for his depictions written for “Uncle Tom’s Children” and “Native Son.”