Black Boy

Black Boy

4.2 78
by Richard Wright

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Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a "drunkard," hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who


Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a "drunkard," hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot.

Black Boy is Richard Wright's powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment—a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.

Editorial Reviews

Sacred Fire

Black Boy is Richard Wright’s unforgettable story of growing up in the Jim Crow South. Published in 1945, it is often considered a fictionalized autobiography or an autobiographical novel because of Wright’s use of fiction techniques (and possibly fictional events) to tell his story. Nevertheless, the book is a lyrical and skillfully wrought description of Wright’s hungry youth in rural Mississippi and Memphis, told from the perspective of the adult Wright, who was still trying to come to grips with the cruel deprivations and humiliations of his childhood.

Life in the pre—civil rights South was intensely alienating for young Richard. At every turn, his desire to communicate was stunted, whether by famiIy members who insisted he "hush!" or by teachers who harassed and mocked him. He was surrounded by people he considered contemptibly ignorant, people who willingly allowed their lives to be restricted by tradition and authority no matter how illegitimate or self-destructive. Whether they were racist whites or passive, uncompassionate blacks, his fellow southerners viewed Richard’s independence and intelligence with suspicion and scorned and humiliated him for his family's poverty. He lashed out by hitting the streets: He was already drinking by the time he turned six, and he fought constantly. He finally found his outlet in writing; by the end of the book, he decided that there was nothing he could ever do to improve his life in the South and committed to moving to Chicago to pursue his art.

When first published,Black Boy was considered by many to be an angry attack on the racist South because of Wright’s hard-hitting portrayal of the racism he faced, not to mention his already-acquired reputation as a "protest writer." But the book’s value goes deeper than that: Wright bears witness to the American struggle for the right of self-definition. His own quest to escape the suffocating world of his childhood and find a place where he could freely exercise his individuality, creativity, and integrity was ultimately successful. But Black Boy also offers insight into an entire culture of people, both black and white, who had unthinkingly accepted a narrowly prescribed course of life. As Wright put it, "[though] they lived in America where in theory there existed equality of opportunity, they knew unerringly what to aspire to and what not to aspire to." Despite Wright’s stifling environment, his story is inspirational for its portrait of how a black boy shucked off the limited expectations of those around him and dared to aspire.

Library Journal
Son of a tenant farmer and school teacher, the award-winning novelist was always hungry as a boy. Whether at home, in an orphanage, or in the care of an aunt or grandmother, he begged or stole food without remorse. His 1945 Dickens-like story of abandonment, child labor, and self-education is a classic of survival in the Jim Crow South.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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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 me afraid.

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 heldnothing 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.


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!"


"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 (c) by Richard Wright . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his novels, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation. He died in 1960.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
September 4, 1908
Date of Death:
November 28, 1960
Place of Birth:
Near Natchez, Mississippi
Place of Death:
Paris, France
Smith-Robertson Junior High in Jackson, Mississippi (1925)

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On Writing Well 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 78 reviews.
LennonFan More than 1 year ago
I bought this book to help me write better English papers. I had no idea how many bad writing habits I needed to change!

By simply doing away with embellishments and choosing concise and energetic verbs dramatically boosted the quality of my college papers. There are many other suggestions too: organization, structure, diction, using a thesaurus--but I was amazed at how much better my papers read (and grades improved) just by changing those two things I mentioned at the outset.

What I discovered is that writing is a process and not an end to itself. Possibly the greatest writers would probably want to change their published works if they were able to. This just means that we are all changing, growing individuals.

As a reference/how-to book, it reads very easily. Using examples from well-established writers, William Zinsser drives home his ideas in illustrative ways that will leave you entertained and informed.

Highly recommended.
whspatron More than 1 year ago
I'm always looking for books that are targeted towards writing on an advanced level since most books are for the high school crowd that need definitions on adverbs and essay outlines. Zinsser makes this book a fun read and it made me think more about my writing technique outside of boring "black and white" nonfiction technique. He gives a lot of great writing examples and since I know he's a teacher, a lot of the information he gives seems like the criteria he's looking for when grading a paper. This book has been a great guide for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, is meant to compliment The Elements of Style by Stunk and White. In Zinsser¿s own words ¿The Elements of Style is a book of pointers and admonitions: do this, don¿t do that. What it didn¿t address was how to apply those principles to the various forms that nonfiction writing and journalism can take.¿ Although the book is organized in four parts, the content could really be summarized in two categories: · Writing principals, methods, and attitudes · Guidelines for specific forms of nonfiction, including travel, humor, business, sports, arts, memoirs, and family history. Subjects addressed include: rewriting, craft vs. art, humanity and warmth, clutter, simplicity, finding a style, clichés, rhythm, unity, tone, and attitude. All of these are covered with the insight of a successful writer having decades of experience. The author works some biographical information and experiences into the text, but the focus of the material is on writing well. Given that the first edition was in 1976, some of the examples and attitudes are dated, but they also add to the charm of the book. No recaps or exercises are included at the end of the chapters, but an index is provided for easy reference. As the subtitle indicates, the book is specifically directed at nonfiction writing, but many of the concepts also apply to fiction. With over a million copies sold, and in its thirtieth anniversary edition, much of the information has already been worked into other writing guides. As envisioned by Zinsser, On Writing Well compliments The Elements of Style. Together, they make a great combination.
engauge More than 1 year ago
Zinsser's text is a valuable tool in learning to be a better writer. As a student, I found this book to be influential and informative. I can identify with Zinsser's advice to rid writing of clutter; I have been doing this for years. I was skeptical about reading a book about writing well, primarily because I did not know what to expect other than boredom. I discovered quite the opposite; his tips, sections and demonstrative style were interesting throughout the text as well as easy to understand and apply in my own writing. I have implemented much of what Zinsser discusses in his book both in school and everyday life.
KarenMcGrath More than 1 year ago
This is written for non-fiction but as a fiction writer, I have found it invaluable. Zinsser's words stay the course. I highly recommend this for anyone considering a writing career.
Dfculver More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent book for giving examples from his own writing of memoir, as well as tips and suggestions for how to keep your writing from being too wordy or generic. Zinsser writes to convey that simplicity is best and missing from most writing today. Authors should stand for their style, but not lose their audience in their wordiness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a college student there is no doubt that every student should read this book. You will become a better writer if you read it. Zinsser not only writes on many topics and styles, but also gives interesting examples and demonstrates how you can apply his ideas into your own work. This book is a great book for any writer, from high school to retirement. His intellect and humor make a great combination and are reasons why this book is so easy to read and learn from. If you want to be a better writer, this book is for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book outlines the proper ways to write nonfiction. Zinsser stresses the importance of simplifying words and using words that one would normally. The point of writing is to express you and sell your topic this establishes a writing style. Zinsser states ¿The difference between an active verb style and a passive-verb style-in clarity and vigor-is the difference between life and death for a writer.¿ ¿He was seen running by Jane¿ is weaker than stating ¿Jane saw him run.¿ The latter is stronger and shorter. There is less confusion in a shorter precise sentence than a longer one. Zinsser states that most of the time writers write too much. It is clutter if you write ¿he screamed loudly.¿ If you scream it is loudly there is not reason to mention ¿loudly¿. Overall the book was written well and was useful.
wkl More than 1 year ago
I write fiction, but this book was still helpful.
BillA More than 1 year ago
I wish I had read this book years ago. It's very well-written, informative, and amusing. Don't miss it, if you have any idea or aspiration for writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in writing and publishing to read and enjoy. I just love it! I started reading this book during a journalism class. I learned more from the book than from the journalism teacher. Every story the teacher had a problem with, I had published in my original writing without changing one word. The editors of the newspapers publishing the stories also loved them. Additionally, the audience and readers of the articles are just elated and happy to read them. This book has really opened my eyes regarding the writing process, teachers, and editors. I have learned how to fight back and win! I have also picked up some sound advice on enjoyment and confidence, and how to deal with tyranny and fear. This is truly an inspirational book. It is easy to read. The chapters are not long. There is humor in the pages, and I truly enjoyed the learning experience. I will cherish it and read it again from time to time. Thank you William Zinsser!
Guest More than 1 year ago
In order to improve your grammar and writing skills, I recommend reading 'On Writing Well' by William Zinsser. The book highlights a variety of techniques in four parts. His writing style is very personal and his use of clarity makes the book a very easy read. Zinsser uses his own personal examples of what NOT to do as well as his own personal advice on how to improve each sentence that you write.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't know why this book is so relegated to nonfiction writers. Fiction writers will benefit greatly from Zinsser's guidance as well, to learn to focus their work, fix their grammar and dump all those adjectives that send their work to the slush piles! A must read for fiction writers too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book helped me with my attempt to begin a short story. Zinsser assisted me through my thought process. I would recommend this book to all new writers like myself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first taught from this book in the early 80's, and the latest edition now serves students in my online course On Writing Well: A Composition Sampler. Zinsser inspires budding writers with snippets of great nonfiction to exemplify his no-nonsense instruction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Would read it over and over.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book wasvery helpful and encouraging. It has many tips and I found much of my book highlighted and full of notes. This is a book I will go back to often.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can someone plz lend this to me
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BlindJudo More than 1 year ago
Compliments to Wm Zinsser for providing a road map, suggestions, examples and direction for those aspiring and current nonfiction writers. I found the book most helpful not only as a review but helpful direction. It's a must have book On Writing Well for all novice or experienced writers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating and horrifying look at racial prejudice in the 1920`s south told through the eyes of an unlikely eyewitness - a self-educated black intellectual. Wright`s stark depiction of the sordid and cruel worlds of both blacks and whites make riveting reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Blood. I-I would really like to be your alpha female. Please.