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PHOTO ESSAY

Twentieth Century Literary Giants

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Richard Wright

Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Growing up poor in the Jim Crow South, as a child Richard Wright lived under the constant pall of racism and repeatedly endured beatings from both his white peers and his own family. The violence that shadowed his early life came to characterize his writing, most notably his revolutionary novel Native Son (1940). The story of a black man who accidentally kills a white woman and is sentenced to death, Native Son synthesized the poverty and racism of Wright's past with his interest in transformative violence, a powerful combination that also appeared in Black Boy (1945), his autobiography about growing up in the South. Warmly received in Paris while visiting the city in the late 1940s, Wright afterward found the racism he encountered at home to be intolerable and moved permanently to France, where he spent the remainder of his life.

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