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Prepared by Dean Keller; Revised for the Web by Eric Linderman, April 1997; Updated March 2018; Last Updated; September 2020
Inclusive Dates: 1938-1950
Extent: .33 cubic foot (1 document case)
Physical Location: 11th floor
Biographical Note: Richard Wright was born September 4, 1908, and died on November 28, 1960. He grew up in Tennessee and Mississippi, and was the son of an illiterate sharecropper and a schoolteacher. Wright adopted a strong interest in study and writing during his youth and dedicated himself to a rich education despite setbacks due to poverty and racism. As an author, Wright would often emphasize the discrimination he suffered while growing up in the South. Throughout his life, Wright worked diligently to earn for himself the ability to travel and gain experience. In 1927, Wright moved to Chicago from Memphis, where he would earn his living as a dishwasher, a postal worker, and as a streetcleaner. The time in Chicago was important for Wright, for it is here that he became active in the the Communist Party and the John Reed Club of Chicago, a group of leftist writers. The Party, which he would later oppose, offered him the opportunity to publish articles and stories.
Wright's popularity expanded following his move to New York City, where he became the Harlem editor of The Daily Worker. While in New York, Wright won a Guggenheim fellowship and published both Uncle Tom's Children and Native Son. Native Son would eventually be adapted to a play, and then a movie featuring the author in an acting role. Wright's work rewarded him with the ability to travel and meet important people of the time. In 1946, Wright went to Paris on an official invitation from the French government. Here he would gain recognition and influence from figures such as Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Paul Sartre. "I Choose Exile" is an important expression of Wright's attitudes of this time. The paper indicates Wright's preference for living in France because of its society's better treatment of minorities. The paper was submitted to Ebony magazine and ultimately denied publication due to the strength of some of Wright's statements within the article.
Other travels provided Wright with journals full of material for other books which would expand well beyond life in the American south. A trip to Africa provide the material for Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos. Also, Pagan Spain serves as an account of Wright's study of Spanish history. Wright's work also includes: Black Boy, Lawd Today, The Outsider, The Long Dream, White Man Listen, and Eight Men.
Scope and Content: The letters in this collection may serve to accompany Letters to Joe C. Brown (Kent State University Libraries, 1968), a compilation with an introduction by Thomas Knipp.
Acquisitions Note: The material was purchased from Ben Burns, then editor of Ebony magazine.
Arrangement: The letters are arranged chronologically by the author's date on each letter.
Related Materials: The Department of Special Collections and Archives holds an extensive collection of books by Richard Wright. In addition to Wright's better known books, the collection includes The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference, and I Am a Red Slogan, published by the International Union of Revolutionary Writers in Moscow, April, 1935.
Folder -- Contents
1. 1938, March 1. [Wright], Rich[ard], 1908-1960. To Joe [Joseph Brown].
Literary matters; his book Uncle Tom's Children; mentions William Faulkner.
Typed letter signed 1p. 17.5cm.
2. 1938, March 5. [Wright], Richard,1908-1960. [New York, N.Y.] To Joe [Joseph] Brown [Oxford, Miss.]
Literary, political, and personal matters. Typed Letter 1p. 17.7cm.
3. 1939, March 29. [Wright] Dick [Richard], 1908-1960, Brooklyn, N.Y.
To Joe [Joseph Brown]. Literary matters; his novel Native Son; political and personal matters.
Typed letter signed. 1p. 28cm.
4. 1939, June 11. Wright, Richard, 1908-1960, New York, N.Y.
To Joe [Joseph Brown]. About some poems by Brown.
Typed letter signed. 1p. 28cm.
5. 1940, April 29. Wright, Richard, 1908-1960, Cuernavaca, Mexico.
To Joe [Joseph Brown, Taylor, MI]. Concerning his travels and life in Mexico; political and personal matters.
Typed letter signed. 1p. 32.4cm.
6. 1940, September 28. Wright, Dick [Richard], 1908-1960, Brooklyn, N.Y.
To Joe [Joseph Brown, Oxford, MI]. Literary and personal matters; Wright's view of the war.
Typed letter 1p. 22.5cm.
7. 1940, December 29. [Wright, Richard], 1908-1960, Brooklyn, N.Y.
To Joe [Joseph Brown]. Personal note.
Autograph letter. 1p. 28cm.
8. 1940, December 30. Wright, Dick [Richard], 1908-1960, Brooklyn, N.Y.
To [Joseph Brown's family]. Christmas wishes.
Autograph letter signed. 1p. 28cm.
9. 1941, December 30. [Wright] Dick [Richard], 1908-1960, Brooklyn, N.Y.
To Joe [Joseph Brown]. Personal matters.
Typed letter signed 1p. 28cm.
10. 1945, June 4. [Wright], Dick [Richard], 1908-1960, Brooklyn, N.Y.
On African American literature; mentions William Faulkner; personal matters.
Typed letter signed. 2p. 28cm.
11. 1945, August 9. Wright, Dick [Richard], 1908-1960, Quebec, Canada.
To Joe [Joseph Brown]. Speaks of the prototype of Griggs in Black Boy;advises Brown on moving to the North; personal matters.
Typed letter signed. 1p. 28cm.
12. 1951. I Choose Exile.
Manuscript written in Paris for Ebony. With corrections in pen.
Typed Document 11p. 26.8cm.
Wright says he left America because he loves freedom and "...there is more freedom in one square block of Paris than there is in the entire United States of America!" He stresses that it was not "racial reasons" alone which persuaded him to leave but the American "materialistic power" domination. He describes an event in 1946 while he was looking to buy a home in New England. He describes trying to get a passport and Gertrude Stein greeting him on his arrival in Paris.. Quotes a discussion with Andre Gide and mentions Jean-Paul Sartre. Describes Paris.
Accompanied by a letter from Wright in Paris dated Dec. 4, 1951 to Ben [Burns], then editor of Ebony, discussing the article's background and Wright's "contract" with the magazine. Also includes copies of three letters from Ben Burns to Hyman Kritzer (July 15, 1969; Aug. 6, 1969; Aug. 21, 1969) discussing the background of the earlier exchange.