Cover image for Black boy (American hunger) : a record of childhood and youth
Title:
Black boy (American hunger) : a record of childhood and youth
Author:
Wright, Richard, 1908-1960.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First Perennial Classics edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Perennial Classics, 1998.

©1993
Physical Description:
xix, 419 pages : portrait ; 21 cm
General Note:
"The restored text, established by the Library of America."

"Originally published in 1945 by Harper & Brothers ... The text as restored by the Library of America was published in 1991 ... First HarperPerennial edition published 1993"--T.p. verso.
Language:
English
Reading Level:
950 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.4 22.0 12777.

Reading Counts RC High School 8.5 27 Quiz: 13295 Guided reading level: Z.
ISBN:
9780060929787
Format :
Book

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PS3545.R815 Z5 1993C Adult Non-Fiction Reading List
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PS3545.R815 Z5 1993C Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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PS3545.R815 Z5 1993C Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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Summary

Summary

With an introduction by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Black Boy is a classic of American autobiography, a subtly crafted narrative of Richard Wright' s journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. An enduring story of one young man' s coming off age during a particular time and place, Black Boy remains a seminal text in our history about what it means to be a man, black, and Southern in America. Superb...The Library of America has insured that most of Wright' s major texts are now available as he wanted them to be tread...Most important of all is the opportunity we now have to hear a great American writer speak with his own voice about matters that still resonate at the center of our lives. --Alfred Kazin, New York Time Book Review The publication of this new edition is not just an editorial innovation, it is a major event in American literary history. --Andrew Delbanco, New Republic


Author Notes

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.

(Bowker Author Biography) Richard Wright was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi. His father left the family when Wright was only five years old, and he was raised first by his mother and then by a series of relatives. What little schooling he had ended with his graduation from ninth grade in Memphis, Tennessee. At age 15, he started to work in Memphis, and later worked in Chicago before traveling across the country supporting himself with odd jobs.

When Wright finally returned to Chicago, he got a job with the federal Writer's Project, a government-supported arts program. He was quite successful, winning a $500 prize from a magazine for the best fiction written by a participant in that program. In Chicago, he was also introduced to leftist politics and became a member of the Communist Party. In 1937, Wright left Chicago for New York, where he became Harlem editor for the Communist national newspaper, The Daily Worker, and where he met future novelist, Ralph Ellison.

Wright became a celebrated author with the publication of Native Son (1940), a novel he wrote in only eight months. Based on the actual case of a young black murderer of a white woman, it was one of the first of the modern black protest novels, violent and shocking in its sense of cruelty, hunger, rape, murder, flight, and prison. This novel brought Wright both fame and financial security. He followed it with his autobiography, Black Boy (1945), which was also successful. In 1942, Wright and his wife broke with the Communist Party, and in 1947, they moved to France, where Wright lived the rest of his life. His novel The Outsider (1953) is based on his experiences as a member of the Communist Party.

Wright is regarded as a major modern American writer, one of the first black writers to reach a large white audience, and thereby raise the level of national awareness of the continuing problem of racism in America. In many respects Wright paved the way for all black writers who followed him.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Excerpts

Excerpts

Black Boy Chapter One One winter morning in the long-ago, four-year-old days of my life I found myself standing before a fireplace, warming my hands over a mound of glowing coals, listening to the wind whistle past the house outside. All morning my mother had been scolding me, telling me to keep still, warning me that I must make no noise. And I was angry, fretful, and impatient. In the next room Granny lay ill and under the day and night care of a doctor and I knew that I would be punished if I did not obey. I crossed restlessly to the window and pushed back the long fluffy white curtains--which I had been forbidden to touch-and looked yearningly out into the empty street. I was dreaming of running and playing and shouting, but the vivid image of Granny's old, white, wrinkled, grim face, framed by a halo of tumbling black hair, lying upon a huge feather pillow, made meafraid. The house was quiet. Behind me my brother--a year younger than I--was playing placidly upon the floor with a toy. A bird wheeled past the window and I greeted it with a glad shout. "You better hush," my brother said. "You shut up," I said. My mother stepped briskly into the room and closed the door behind her. She came to me and shook her finger in my face. "You stop that yelling, you hear?" she whispered. "You know Granny's sick and you better keep quiet!" I hung my head and sulked. She left and I ached with boredom. "I told you so," my brother gloated. "You shut up," I told him again. I wandered listlessly about the room, trying to think of something to do, dreading the return of my mother, resentful of being neglected. The room held nothing of interest except the fire and finally I stood before the shimmering embers, fascinated by the quivering coals. An idea of a new kind of game grew and took root in my mind. Why not throw something into the fire and watch it burn? I looked about. There was only my picture book and MY mother would beat me if I burned that. Then what? I hunted around until I saw the broom leaning in a closet. That's it ... Who would bother about a few straws if I burned them? I pulled out the broom and tore out a batch of straws and tossed them into the fire and watched them smoke, turn black, blaze, and finally become white wisps of ghosts that vanished. Burning straws was a teasing kind of fun and I took more of them from the broom and cast them into the fire. My brother came to my side, his eyes drawn by the blazing straws. "Don't do that," he said. "How come?" I asked. "You'll burn the whole broom," he said. "You hush," I said. "I'll tell," he said. "And I'll hit you," I said. My idea was growing, blooming. Now I was wondering just how the long fluffy white curtains would look if I lit a bunch of straws and held it under them. Would I try it? Sure. I pulled several straws from the broom and held them to the fire until they blazed; I rushed to the window and brought the flame in touch with the hems of the curtains. My brother shook his head. "Naw," he said. He spoke too late. Red circles were eating into the white cloth: then a flare of flames shot out. Startled, I backed away. The fire soared to the ceiling and I trembled with fright. Soon a sheet of saw her taut face peering under the edge of the house. She had found me! I held my breath and waited to hear her command me to come to her. Her face went away; no, she had not seen me huddled in the dark nook of the chimney. I tucked my head into my arms and my teeth chattered. "Richard!" The distress I sensed in her voice was as sharp and painful as the lash of a whip on my flesh. "Richard! The house is on fire. Oh, find my child!" Yes, the house was afire, but I was determined not to leave my place of safety. Finally I saw another face peering under the edge of the house; it was my father's. His eyes must have become accustomed to the shadows, for he was now pointing at me. "There he is!" "Naw!" I screamed. "Come here, boy!" "Naw!" "The house is on fire!" "Leave me 'lone!" He crawled to me and caught hold of one of my legs. I hugged the edge of the brick chimney with all of my strength. My father yanked my leg and I clawed at the chimney harder. "Come outta there, you little fool!" "Turn me loose!" I could not withstand the tugging at my leg and my fingers relaxed. It was over. I would be beaten. I did not care any more. I knew what was coming. He dragged me into the back yard and the instant his hand left me I jumped to my feet and broke into a wild run, trying to elude the people who surrounded me, heading for the street. I was caught before I had gone ten paces. From that moment on things became tangled for me. Out of the weeping and the shouting and the wild talk, I learned that no one had died in the fire. My brother, it seemed, had finally overcome enough of his panic to warn my mother, but not before more than half the house had been destroyed. Using the mattress as a stretcher, Grandpa and an uncle had lifted Granny from her bed and had rushed her to the safety of a neighbor's house. My long absence and silence had made everyone think, for a while, that I had perished in the blaze. Black Boy . Copyright © by Richard A. Wright. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Black Boy (American Hunger): A Record of Childhood and Youth by Richard Wright All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.