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Friday, May 18, 2012

Tony Lindsay Presents "A Look At Richard Wright"

Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, represents a pivotal point in American literature. It is when the “bad nigger” appears in fiction, and his appearance caused white America ask, “Is this our native son? Did we do this?” Not only did the work mark the American canon, it also helped start a renaissance. Not the exotic, fun filled, lyrical one of Harlem, but one labored with the Communist message and the realism of Wright’s societal observations.

To refer to Richard Wright as merely a Chicago writer would limit the range of his life, but his writing career did start in the city of big shoulders. Wright’s early work, including Native Son, is part of the works that initiated the Chicago Renaissance of the 1930s. During this harsh economic period (The Great Depression) few African Americans were able to make a living from writing and those that did were employed by the Federal Writers Project.

From within this hub of writers, Wright’s work gained admiration and respect. His early work was greatly influenced by the Communist Party’s message that the plight American Blacks was analogous to the struggle of the poor American worker. Wright’s work was also influenced by sociologists from the University of Chicago whose studies and reports labeled his own societal observations.

Wright combined the Party’s message with the information from sociological studies that pointed to the damages caused by the racism; through this process he developed a unique writing style. That style attracted writers within the FWP hub. Wright’s style was imitated by Chicago based writers and thus the Chicago Renaissance was born. His most important work of fiction during that period was Native Son and his most memorable character was Bigger Thomas.

Bigger Thomas was the Nat Turner of the 1930s. Wright’s fiction sounded the same alarm within mainstream America as Turner’s South Hampton insurrection; the “negroes” are coming for their due. However, in literature the alarm was a warning of what could in happen, and a reminder that the “bad nigger” is out there and he is closer than one thinks. 

Wright opens the novel with a foreshadowing metaphor,
An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked. A woman’s voice sang out impatiently:
“Bigger, shut that thing off!”

At the end of Native Son, an inquisitive the reader asks . . . will the alarm be sounded again? Richard Wright caused America to look at its race problem through his prose. His message wasn’t hidden behind exotic narrative, or lyrical dialect. He put Bigger Thomas “all up in America’s face” and sounded the alarm that something was wrong and the problem required immediate attention. The writing of his career was the precursor to the famous Black Arts Movement.   

Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His new book ONE DEAD DOCTOR is available now on He can be reached at or on Facebook at

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