The Native Son
Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son, was the first book by an African-American writer to enjoy widespread success. In fact, Wright’s novel generated much popular and critical interest before it was even published. Three hours after the book hit the shelves, the first print run out! Soon a school of black American writers – the ‘Wright School’ – began modeling itself after the author in the belief that candid art about the black American would lead to positive political change. Wright suddenly became the most recognised black author in America. Today, the novel is essential to an understanding of twentieth century African literature.
Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.
Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his novels, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation. He died in 1960.