RICHARD NATHANIEL WRIGHT was born on September 4, 1908, near Natchez, Mississippi, to a schoolteacher mother and an illiterate sharecropper father. His father abandoned the family when Wright was very young, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother. After ninth grade, he dropped out of school and moved to Memphis, then to Chicago and New York. He educated himself, and was particularly interested in literature, sociology, and psychology. In 1932 he joined the Communist party, and his literary career was encouraged by the Communist-affiliated John Reed Club. Much of his early writing appeared in leftist publications. He worked for the Federal Negro Theatre Project and the Federal Writers' Project; while associated with these organizations he published 12 Million Black Voices (1941), a Marxist analysis of the American class struggle. He was Harlem editor for the Daily Worker in New York. In 1938 he married Rose Dhima Meadman; they were later divorced, and Wright married Ellen Poplar, with whom he had two children. From 1947 until his death he lived in Paris.
Wright first came to the attention of the American reading public with the publication of Uncle Tom's Children: Four Novellas in 1938; the stories concern the struggles to maturity of oppressed black women and men. An augmented edition including the novelette "Bright and Morning Star" appeared in 1940. Wright's second book, Native Son (1940), was his major critical and popular breakthrough, and remains one of the most influential American novels of the twentieth century. It concerns the life and destruction of Bigger Thomas, a poor black youth from the slums of Chicago. Wright's evocative portrayal of a life of fear and enslavement struck a powerful chord with his readership, despite some critics' complaints that the latter third of the book is expository and slow-moving.
Though none of Wright's subsequent books had the immediate impact of Native Son, he was admired as a solid stylist and spokesman for the poor and oppressed. His later novels are The Outsider (1953), Savage Holiday (1954), The Long Dream (1958), and Lawd Today (1963). Eight Men, a