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A Richard Wright Chronology

1908: Richard Nathaniel Wright born September 4 on Rucker's Plantation, twenty miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, the first child of Nathaniel Wright, a sharecropper, and Ella Wilson Wright, a schoolteacher who gave up teaching soon after Richard was born for farm work. He grows up in one of the most poverty-stricken and rigidly segregated parts of the South.

1911-1912: Unable to support themselves on a farm, the Wrights go to Natchez to live with her family. Richard accidentally sets fire to house of his grandparents, the Wilsons

1913-1914: Nathaniel and Ella move with their children to Memphis in search of better employment. Nathaniel works as a night porter in a hotel and Ella works as a cook for a white family until Nathaniel leaves his family to live with another woman.

1915-1916: Ella moves with her sons to Elain, Arkansas, to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Maggie and Silas Hopkins. Richard becomes close to Silas.

1917: Uncle Silas, a relatively prosperous builder and saloon-keeper, is murdered by whites who resent his prosperous business. No arrests are made, and Aunt Maggie, Ella, and the children flee to West Helena, Arkansas. Wright's schooling is sporadic and he becomes acutely aware of southern racism and violence.

1918-1919: Richard is forced to leave school to find work.

1922: Richard is dismayed by the illiteracy and lack of education he sees among African-Americans. His income from jobs allows Richard to afford books, food, and clothing for the first time.

1921-1925: Racial rioting takes place in many American cities in the years following World War I. Increasingly aware of southern racism and violence--brought to sharp focus when the brother of a high school friend is murdered by whites.

1925: Richard graduates from Smith-Robertson as valedictorian. He refuses to deliver the graduation ceremony speech prepared by the principal and instead delivers his own. He leaves Jackson for Memphis.

1927: Richard moves with his Aunt Maggie to the South Side of Chicago.

1928: Richard begins working in the Chicago post office but fails the medical exam due to undernourishment.

1929: Richard passes the Postal Service physical and returns to work. His family moves into a four room apartment where he can write in relative comfort.

1933: Richard joins the Chicago John Reed Club and writes revolutionary poetry for Left Front. He joins the Communist Party and is hired to supervise a youth club organized to counter juvenile delinquency among African-Americans on the South Side.

1934: Wright officially joins the Communist Party.

1935: Tries unsuccessfully to sell his first novel Lawd Today!.

1937: He turns down a full-time postal position in Chicago. He moves to New York to write for the Daily Worker while continuing to work with the Writer's Project. His "Fire and Cloud" wins first prize in a contest sponsored by Story magazine.

1938: Uncle Tom's Children appears and receives good reviews. He becomes deeply interested in the Robert Nixon case, involving an 18-year-old black man accused of murdering a white woman. Wright does extensive research on the case and uses it as a documentary parallel to characters and events in Native Son.

1939: Wright marries Dhima Rose Meadman, a white ballet dancer. Ralph Ellison served as best man.

1940: Native Son is published, becomes a best-seller, and receives many favorable reviews. Uncle Tom's Children is reissued in an expanded edition. His first marriage fails. He attempts to reconcile with his father.

1941: Wright marries Ellen Poplar, a white woman and a Communist organizer from Brooklyn. The play Native Son is produced on Broadway by Orson Welles and John Houseman.

1942: Daughter Julia is born. Wright withdraws from the Communist Party without publicity.

1945: Black Boy a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, is published in March, receives excellent reviews, and becomes a best-seller.

1946: Wright travels to France in May as a guest of the French government, is well received by French intellectuals, and stays until December.

1947: Returning to New York, Wright encounters continuing racism. Wright, Ellen and Julia return to Paris, where they become permanent expatriates.

1950: He works intensively on a film version of Native Son for which he writes the script and acts the role of Bigger Thomas.

1952: Wright refuses to return to the United States citing risk of subpoena by an anti-Communist congressional investigating committee.

1953: The Outsider is published in March to mixed reviews. Wright travels throughout Africa's Gold Coast.

1955: He travels through Spain and attends the Bandung Conference.

1956: The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference is published in English in March, having appeared in French three months earlier. He places emphasis on race as the crucial factor in resolving the problems of Western and third world cultures.

1960: Wright dies of an apparent heart attack on November 28. He is cremated along with a copy of Black Boy, his autobiography at the Pere Lachaise cemetery on December 3.

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