The autobiography of African-American writer Richard Wright (1908-1960), author of Native Son, which covers the first twenty-eight years of his life.

Part one, "Southern Night", covers Wright's childhood until December 1927, when he and his family finally left the south for Chicago. His family moved frequently to towns in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, and this rootless existence prevented him from forming true attachments to anyone. Because of this alienation, he developed two unique traits which further set him apart from society. He did not have any significant interaction with whites during his younger years, so he never developed the cheerful, grinning Stepin Fetchit facade that whites expected from blacks. Thus he had to fake it and constantly be on his guard, making his interactions with whites even more difficult and dangerous than normal black-white relationships in the Jim Crow South.

He was also alienated from black society. The main cause of this would also be his means of escape from poverty and Jim Crow: the written word. Early on, he was a voracious reader and developed an intense intellectual drive and curiosity, despite the fact that he had relatively little education. Other blacks, hobbled by poor education and a myopic world-view, were unable to understand his drive to read, write, and leave the South and baffled when he casually shrugged off a high school teaching career, in their eyes a grand ambition.

In part two, "The Horror and the Glory", Wright and his family were finally in Chicago. He was baffled at how different race relations were in the North and how differently whites treated blacks. The color lines were still there, of course, but working relationships and friendships often crossed them, and Wright was even able to get a relatively well-paying job at the post office, an impossibility in the South.

Wright became heavily involved in politics, almost accidentally. At first he worked briefly for the Republican party (then still the party of Abraham Lincoln and not Ronald Reagan), but became disillusioned after witnessing widespread corruption. Then he attended, on a bored whim, a meeting of the Communist Party's John Reed Club, the party's literary organization. In the first half of this century, many Americans, including many of our best writers and artists, flocked to the Communist Party to combat the race and class divide in American society and to fight the excesses of unchecked capitalism. For the first time, Wright had found a place where his color was almost completely irrelevant and he enthusiastically signed on board. He rose to become executive secretary and contributed frequently to their magazine Left Front.

But the Communist Party was not all that he and many American idealists hoped. Black party members quickly labeled him "bourgeois" because he was an intellectual. ("He talks like a book.") The party's leadership became suspicious of his literary activities and tried to rein him in and make tow the party line, as they saw it. Wright did the best he could to avoid making waves and was baffled at the trouble surrounding him. He firmly believed in the principles of the Communist Party, but could not stand the political gamesmanship and lack of literary freedom. In 1935, the Party dissolved the John Reed Clubs and stopped publishing Left Front. Wright ceased his party work, but party members interfered with many of his future activities, including a WPA theater project. The book ends with Wright being physically removed from a May Day parade by his former comrades.

Wright wrote the book in 1943. At first it was titled "Black Confession", but by the time he finished the work at the end of the year, it was called "American Hunger". In an effort to stave off objections to "obscene passages" from the Book of the Month Club (which had happened with Native Son), Wright removed a short passage discussing male genitalia (on p.180). In those days, the Book of the Month Club wasn't the 10 books for a penny outfit it is now. It could exert pressure on authors to alter content (though it was generally benign) because it was an essential (if not the most essential) outlet for authors to reach the reading public in a country without amazon.com or book superstores. It was doubly essential for an African American author in white America.

The Book of the Month Club published only "Southern Night" under the title Black Boy and asked that the second section be removed. Wright believed that pressure from communists who objected to him and his blunt portrayal of them led to the club's decision. He was pleased that the club selected his book, however, and parts of the "The Horror and the Glory" would appear in numerous magazines during the next decades. Harper and Row published "The Horror and the Glory" in its entirety under the title American Hunger in 1977. Both parts were finally published together in 1991.

And with that, I am an M-Noder. Woo hoo!

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