When Black Boy exploded onto the literary scene in 1945, it caused a sensation. Orville Prescott of the New York Times wrote that "if enough such books are written, if enough millions of people read them maybe, someday, in the fullness of time, there will be a greater understanding and a more true democracy." Opposing forces felt compelled to comment: addressing Congress, Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi argued that the purpose of this book "was to plant seeds of hate and devilment in the minds of every American." From 1975 to 1978, Black Boy was banned in schools throughout the United States for "obscenity" and "instigating hatred between the races." This new edition of the once controversial, now classic American autobiography measures the brutality and rawness of the Jim Crow South against the sheer desperate will it took to survive as "black boy." Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those about him; at six he was "a drunkard," hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot. At the end of Black Boy, Wright sits poised with pencil in hand, determined to "hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo." Wright's eloquent account is at once a profound indictment and an unashamed confession -- a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering. HarperCollins is proud to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the book's publication with this special hardcover edition, which utilizes the restored text established by The Library of America and features a new foreword by Edward P. Jones, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Known World.
Richard Wright was generally thought of as one of the most gifted contemporary African American writers until the rise of James Baldwin. "With Wright, the pain of being a Negro is basically economic---its sight is mainly in the pocket. With Baldwin, the pain suffuses the whole man. . . . If Baldwin's sights are higher than Wright's, it is in part because Wright helped to raise them" (Time). Wright was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper. At the age of 15, he started to work in Memphis, then in Chicago, then "bummed all over the country," supporting himself by various odd jobs. His early writing was in the smaller magazines---first poetry, then prose. He won Story Story's $500 prize---for the best story written by a worker on the Writer's Project---with "Uncle Tom's Children" in 1938, his first important publication. He wrote Native Son (1940) in eight months, and it made his reputation. Based in part on the actual case of a young black murderer of a white woman, it was one of the first of the African American protest novels, violent and shocking in its scenes of cruelty, hunger, rape, murder, flight, and prison. Black Boy (1945) is the simple, vivid, and poignant story of Wright's early years in the South. It appeared at the beginning of a new postwar awareness of the evils of racial prejudice and did much to call attention to the plight of the African American. The Outsider (1953) is a novel based on Wright's own experience as a member of the Communist party, an affiliation he terminated in 1944. He remained politically inactive thereafter and from 1946 until his death made his principal residence in Paris. His nonfiction writings on problems of his race include Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (1954), about a visit to the Gold Coast, White Man, Listen (1957), and Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States.