By Force of Thought: Irregular Memoirs of an Intellectual Journey
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He had to stop attending classes after a few weeks of irregular attendance because he needed to earn money for family expenses. The next year, at the age of 17, Wright moved on his own to Memphis, Tennessee , in November He studied at the Howe Institute. He planned to have his mother come to live with him when he could support her.
In , his mother and younger brother rejoined him. Wright's childhood in Mississippi, as well as in Memphis, Tennessee, and Elaine, Arkansas, shaped his lasting impressions of American racism. Wright and his family moved to Chicago in After securing employment as a United States postal clerk, during his time off, he read other writers and studied their styles. When he was fired from the post office during the Great Depression , Wright was forced to go on relief in In , he began attending meetings of the John Reed Club.
As the club was dominated by the Communist Party , Wright established a relationship with several party members. Especially interested in the literary contacts made at the meetings, Wright formally joined the Communist Party in late As a revolutionary poet, he wrote numerous proletarian poems "We of the Red Leaves of Red Books", for example , for The New Masses and other left-wing periodicals.
A power struggle within the Chicago chapter of the John Reed Club had led to the dissolution of the club's leadership; Wright was told he had the support of the club's party members if he was willing to join the party. By , Wright had completed the manuscript of his first novel, Cesspool , which was published posthumously as Lawd Today In February of that year, he began working with the National Negro Congress.
Wright submitted some of his critical essays and poetry to the group for criticism and read aloud some of his short stories.
Through the club, he edited Left Front, a magazine that the Communist Party shut down in , despite Wright's repeated protests. Pleased by his positive relations with white Communists in Chicago, Wright was later humiliated in New York City by some white party members who rescinded an offer to find housing for him when they learned his race. He had been forced to end his public education after completing junior high school to support his mother and brother.
Wright insisted that young communist writers be given space to cultivate their talents and he had a working relationship with a black nationalist communist; these factors led to a public falling out with the party and leading members. Wright later described this episode through his fictional character Buddy Nealson, an African-American communist in his book Black Boy.
Wright became the Harlem editor of the Daily Worker , a Communist newspaper. Through the summer and fall he wrote more than articles for the Daily Worker and helped edit a short-lived literary magazine New Challenge. The year was also a landmark for Wright because he met and developed a friendship with writer Ralph Ellison that would last for years. After receiving the Story prize in early , Wright shelved his manuscript of Lawd Today and dismissed his literary agent, John Troustine. Meanwhile, the Story Press offered the publisher Harper all of Wright's prize-entry stories for a book, and Harper agreed to publish the collection.
Wright gained national attention for the collection of four short stories entitled Uncle Tom's Children He based some stories on lynching in the Deep South. The publication and favorable reception of Uncle Tom's Children improved Wright's status with the Communist party and enabled him to establish a reasonable degree of financial stability.
He was appointed to the editorial board of New Masses. Granville Hicks , a prominent literary critic and Communist sympathizer, introduced him at leftist teas in Boston. By May 6, , excellent sales had provided Wright with enough money to move to Harlem, where he began writing the novel Native Son , which he published in Based on his collected short stories, Wright applied for and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship , which gave him a stipend allowing him to complete Native Son.
During this period, he rented a room in the home of friends Herbert and Jane Newton an interracial couple and prominent Communists whom Wright had known in Chicago. It was a daring choice. The lead character, Bigger Thomas, was a person bound by the limitations that society placed on African Americans. He gained his own agency and self-knowledge only by committing heinous acts. Wright was criticized for his concentration on violence in his works.
Kornai's Choice - Economic Principals
In the case of Native Son, people complained that he portrayed a black man in ways that seemed to confirm whites' worst fears. The period following publication of Native Son was a busy time for Wright. In July he went to Chicago to do research for a folk history of blacks to accompany photographs selected by Edwin Rosskam. Wright also wrote the text to accompany a volume of photographs chosen by Rosskam, which were almost completely drawn from the files of the Farm Security Administration.
The FSA had employed top photographers to travel around the country and capture images of Americans. Wright's memoir Black Boy described his early life from Roxie up until his move to Chicago at age It included his clashes with Seventh-day Adventist family, his troubles with white employers, and social isolation. It also describes his intellectual journey through these struggles. American Hunger , which was published posthumously in , was originally intended by Wright as the second volume of Black Boy. The Library of America edition of finally restored the book to its original two-volume form.
The book implied he left earlier, but he did not announce his withdrawal until Wright disapproved of Josef Stalin 's Great Purge in the Soviet Union , but he continued to believe in far-left democratic solutions to political problems.
He became a permanent American expatriate. His Existentialist phase was expressed in his second novel, The Outsider , which described an African-American character's involvement with the Communist Party in New York. He also became friends with fellow expatriate writers Chester Himes and James Baldwin.
His relationship with the latter ended in acrimony after Baldwin published his essay "Everybody's Protest Novel" collected in Notes of a Native Son , in which he criticized Wright's portrayal of Bigger Thomas as stereotypical. In Wright published Savage Holiday. After becoming a French citizen in , Wright continued to travel through Europe, Asia, and Africa.
He drew material from these trips for numerous nonfiction works. In , Wright contributed to the anti-communist anthology The God That Failed ; his essay had been published in the Atlantic Monthly three years earlier and was derived from the unpublished portion of Black Boy. He was invited to join the Congress for Cultural Freedom , which he rejected, correctly suspecting that it had connections with the CIA. With the heightened communist fears of the s, Wright was blacklisted by Hollywood movie studio executives. In mid, Wright traveled to the Gold Coast , where Kwame Nkrumah was leading the country to independence from British rule, to be established as Ghana.
Before Wright returned to Paris, he gave a confidential report to the United States consulate in Accra on what he had learned about Nkrumah and his political party. The officer's report includes what Wright had learned from Nkrumah adviser George Padmore about Nkrumah's plans for the Gold Coast after independence. Padmore, a Trinidadian living in London, believed Wright to be a good friend.
His many letters in the Wright papers at Yale's Beinecke Library attest to this, and the two men continued their correspondence. Wright's book on his African journey, Black Power , was published in ; its London publisher was Dennis Dobson , who also published Padmore's work. Whatever political motivations Wright had for reporting to American officials, he was also an American who wanted to stay abroad and needed their approval to have his passport renewed.
According to Wright biographer Addison Gayle , a few months later Wright talked to officials at the American embassy in Paris about people he had met in the Communist Party; at the time these individuals were being prosecuted in the US under the Smith Act. Historian Carol Polsgrove explored why Wright appeared to have little to say about the increasing activism of the civil rights movement during the s in the United States.
She found that Wright was under what his friend Chester Himes called "extraordinary pressure" to avoid writing about the US. He believed that "a white periodical would be less vulnerable to accusations of disloyalty. In , Wright visited Indonesia for the Bandung Conference. Wright was enthusiastic about the possibilities posed by this meeting of newly independent, former colonial nations.
He gave at least two lectures to Indonesian cultural groups, including PEN Club Indonesia, and he interviewed Indonesian artists and intellectuals in preparation to write The Color Curtain. It explores the relationship between a man named Fish and his father. These works dealt primarily with the poverty, anger, and protests of northern and southern urban black Americans. His agent, Paul Reynolds, sent strongly negative criticism of Wright's page Island of Hallucinations manuscript in February Despite that, in March Wright outlined a novel in which his character Fish was to be liberated from racial conditioning and become dominating.
By May , Wright wanted to leave Paris and live in London.
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He felt French politics had become increasingly submissive to United States pressure. The peaceful Parisian atmosphere he had enjoyed had been shattered by quarrels and attacks instigated by enemies of the expatriate black writers. He suffered a virulent attack of amoebic dysentery , probably contracted during his stay on the Gold Coast.
By November his wife had found a London apartment, but Wright's illness and "four hassles in twelve days" with British immigration officials ended his desire to live in England.
By Force of Thought
On February 19, , Wright learned from his agent Reynolds that the New York premiere of the stage adaptation of The Long Dream received such bad reviews that the adapter, Ketti Frings, had decided to cancel further performances. These setbacks prevented his finishing revisions of Island of Hallucinations, for which he was trying to get a publication commitment from Doubleday and Sons.
In June , Wright recorded a series of discussions for French radio, dealing primarily with his books and literary career. He also addressed the racial situation in the United States and the world, and specifically denounced American policy in Africa. In late September, to cover extra expenses for his daughter Julia's move from London to Paris to attend the Sorbonne , Wright wrote blurbs for record jackets for Nicole Barclay, director of the largest record company in Paris.
In spite of his financial straits, Wright refused to compromise his principles. He declined to participate in a series of programs for Canadian radio because he suspected American control. For the same reason, he rejected an invitation from the Congress for Cultural Freedom to go to India to speak at a conference in memory of Leo Tolstoy. Still interested in literature, Wright helped Kyle Onstott get his novel Mandingo published in France. Wright's last display of explosive energy occurred on November 8, , in his polemical lecture, "The Situation of the Black Artist and Intellectual in the United States," delivered to students and members of the American Church in Paris.
He argued that American society reduced the most militant members of the black community to slaves whenever they wanted to question the racial status quo. He offered as proof the subversive attacks of the Communists against Native Son and the quarrels which James Baldwin and other authors sought with him. On November 26, , Wright talked enthusiastically with Langston Hughes about his work Daddy Goodness and gave him the manuscript. He died in Paris on November 28, , of a heart attack at the age of Wright's daughter Julia has claimed that her father was murdered.
A number of Wright's works have been published posthumously. In addition, some of Wright's more shocking passages dealing with race, sex, and politics were cut or omitted before original publication of works during his lifetime. In , unexpurgated versions of Native Son, Black Boy, and his other works were published. In addition, in , his novella Rite of Passage was published for the first time.
In the last years of his life, Wright had become enamored of the Japanese poetic form haiku and wrote more than 4, such short poems.