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Black Boy

Black Boy

4.3 144
by Richard Wright

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This incredible bestselling classic is Richard Wright's unforgettable and eloquent autobiography of growing up in the Jim Crow South.


This incredible bestselling classic is Richard Wright's unforgettable and eloquent autobiography of growing up in the Jim Crow South.

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.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

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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Black Boy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 144 reviews.
Kathy-B More than 1 year ago
Want to know in depth detail about the life of a typical of an African American boy growing up in the 1920's? Well this is the book for you. "Black Boy" is an autobiography of author Richard Wright, and his life growing up. Read as he goes in full detail of his harsh life at home vs. his everyday life trying to keep up and cope with the society. Wright reveals the real action that would go on in a typical broken African American home. However, violence was not the only conflict he had to deal with. Because of his family's dedication to Religion, Wright had to assemble that in along with his behaviors-Wright always chose not to. From stealing to getting a new job every week, Wright makes sure the reader does not want to put the book down. A definitely must read!
Krzykrnkln More than 1 year ago
In America today, it would be insulting to say, "Hey you, black boy!" to call an African-American child. So when I first read the title of this book, I knew it was going to be about racism. And one of the book's main theme turned out to be about it. I read this book because it was my school requirement, and before I read it, I thought to myself, 'Ehh, just another book about racism.' Interestingly, this autobiography opened up my mind, changing my view drastically about the life of African-Americans during early 1900s. Before reading the book, I thought only rights, like voting, were denied to African-Americans. However, it was waaaaaaay more than that. Not only the rights were denied, the majority of white in America impacted African-Americans psychologically, discouraging them from rising up in status. Through out this book, the main character struggles through the segregated America to achieve what other few African-American tried during this period, equality. The author's diction is easier than I thought it would've been, and sometimes I stayed up till midnight reading this because it was simply attracting. I strongly recommend reading this autobiography to the young generation.
Ema_C_13 More than 1 year ago
A boy can only go through so much. Or can he? Black Boy is a compelling autobiography describing all the struggles and hardships of Richard Wright’s life. Richard deals with many issues (which are the main themes of the book) including racism, religious beliefs, choosing between right and wrong, and trust issues. From an early age Richard has struggled. At a young age, Wright set his house on fire, his father left his family helpless, and he and his brother were forced into an orphanage because their mother could no longer provide for them. This sets up his life of fighting to find enough money to support himself and all of his family- in a world full of racism. Richard has a passion for writing and reading-will it break him or make him? Richard must learn to deal with this chaos he calls life, but he trusts no one and will take help from nobody. I really enjoyed the autobiography Black Boy, but I thought it got slower towards the end. I would highly recommend this book to high schoolers, because it provides detailed insight into Richard’s life, and gives a clear understanding of his hardships including racism. It includes clear and crisp stories of his life, with very vivid imagery. The book will certainly keep them on their toes and keep them reading- what will happen to Richard next? I loved the fact that so many major events were packed into the book, but that minor events were also included to support overall ideas and provide further explanation into the significance of each event. Imagery was present in every page, and it felt as if you were living through the book with Richard himself, partaking in his journey. I found myself clinging to each word, undecidedly feeling that I did like Richard, then a couple pages later thinking about how I despised him. In the end, I liked him, and that maybe I just didn’t like some of his choices. Either way, there is certainly enough to read and understand about his life. However, I felt the book didn’t provide enough detail about some of the other characters (yes, I know, it was an autobiography, but still) such as Richard’s father, mother, and brother and at times felt confused when other family members were mentioned (aunts and uncles). Also, mentions of certain jobs felt unimportant and unnecessary, as they were briefly mentioned, and soon replaced by another job. Some parts got very religious as well, just as a forewarning. My overall rating of this book would be probably an 8.5/10. Like previously mentioned, it was a very good book that kept me reading and turning the page, but had a few issues that were quite bothersome (that is my own opinion). If you like this book, I would suggest checking out a few of Richard Wright’s other book such as Eight Men: Short Stories or Uncle Tom’s Children. Certainly consider reading Black Boy, I doubt you’ll regret it.
Rachel363 More than 1 year ago
When I got the list of books that I had to read for my upcoming school year Black Boy By Richard Wright was not one of the books that stuck out to me. When it came time in the year to start reading it I fell in love with this story of an astounding mans life. From the very first page you feel sympathetic for Richard and his younger brother, Alan. Immediately you see how their parents raise them with a strong fist. As Richard grows up he is forced to deal with harsh parents, grandparents, teachers and white bosses but that never discourages him. His will power to keep moving forward and learning is truly inspirational. Richard Wright writes in a non-exaggerated way that clearly shows the harassment and persecution this man had to endure his whole life. His describes his situation with the perfect amount of detail so you are aware of his surroundings but it is not overbearing. It forces you to go through an emotional rollercoaster that I would ride any day! For all you people who thinks this book would not apply to you, you could not be more wrong. I am a privileged white girl with caring parents and teachers and friend always there to help but I was still able to find more similarities to Richard than most would expect. During his childhood he struggled with fitting in when he changed from school to school, that is an emotion that anyone would feel. If they were going to a new school, job, or even a party. At his job he encounters abnormal coworkers, which any person can relate to. I guarantee that any person could pick up this book and find a least one commonality with their life. That is a huge reason it is such a great read! It also gives great topic discussions so it's perfect for a class, book club or simply bonding with a friend. Once you pick up this book you will not be able to put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Black Boy was interesting, but it seemed to me that Richard would keep going backwards even when it appeared he was moving forward. For this reason the plot, to me, seemed to be very repetitive but with different characters. It was fun noticing the differences between Richard the character and Wright the author, I wouldn't really recommend this book but I'm sure there's plenty of other people that would.
morgantrujillo More than 1 year ago
The Black Boy by Richard Wright is a powerful autobiography of Richard’s young life. He faces long and challenging areas in his life in the south with the Jim Crow Laws. Richard is the narrator of the entire book relating to his life as a young child. The perspective is from a small child’s point of view growing up in the world as a black boy. During this story Richard starts off living with his mother, grandmother and brother in a small house. The house is then caught on fire by Richard forcing the family to move to Jackson. While in Jackson Richard’s mom got ill and was near death. In the beginning Richard was not aware of much that was going on in the world around him and had not realized that there was a problem with racial problems between the blacks and the whites. In the book Richard began to selling papers not realizing what the papers had inside of them. The text explains how a black man showed what he had been selling in this quote, “Well, the paper you’re selling preaches the Ku Klux Klan doctrines,” (131). Richard, as a young boy had not yet realized that he had been working for the white’s against the blacks. Richard only knew small parts of what had been going on, and that was that white’s particularly did not care for the blacks unless for work. Richard’s family was never happy with him and his beliefs. Because of that he was always being beaten by his family. In the text he explains how his Uncle Tom was very angry with him trying to beat him, “This day I’m going to give you a whipping some ought to have given you long ago,” (157). Richard grew up in a very unsupportive household. Throughout the years Richard lands a few part time jobs trying to make enough money to make it on his own. By the time graduation comes along he stole money making his way to the north. Richard was horrified with his crime, but he had to do it to make his life better. Richard makes it to Memphis where he started his life. His life does not change much, but leads him to a better life. In the end Richard realizes that he still wants to be a writer and flees to Chicago making his life better.
eatea More than 1 year ago
Richard Wright can never dissapoint. This non-fiction novel is even better than Native Son even though it does not have such a thrilling story line. The way he writes captivates the reader in a way that one will not want to put the book down. Learning about the past in his perspective is enthralling and amusing to read about.
Avabell 11 months ago
Want to learn about the Struggles of Young African American and How he Lived through Racism in the 1920’s? This is your book. I really enjoyed Black Boy by Richard Wright. It’s a book about overcoming suffering and finding your true self in the process. Richard Wright grew up with a suffering family, moving place to place trying to survive. Richard was abused, starved, worked, and abandoned. Even in a world like his, he was a smart man who loved to write and he rarely gave in to racism and abuse. He faced many demoralizing racial encounters with whites and even had to abandon his morals to survive. But he never gave up on writing and knew it was his connection to the world.I liked the narration and how his specific memories connects to so many others out there who face racial discrimination and abuse in the 1920’s. I didn't like how he added his connection with the communist party, since that's a whole other topic he could have wrote a separate book about that experience. If you are someone who enjoys reading about overcoming segregation this is a good book for you. There are many themes and lessons to learn from this book, like overcoming hardships and finding beauty in a world full of ugliness and neglect. This memoir would make a great movie. There are so many movies about the 1800’s and slavery, but there need to be more about the later years of segregation and racism. This book taught me to find beauty in life, rise above suffering and don’t let anyone get in the way of what you want to do. I think this would make a great film.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In class you have learned about the slavery and racial remarks during the Civil War, but have you ever learned about what happened afterwards.  In the extraordinary novel Black Boy by Richard Wright, the author attempts and succeeds in recalling the e vents in which his African American family had endured after the Civil War had ended.  In this book Richard is a young boy but ha trouble in school and in church.   The majority of the book consists of the life that Richard and his family had to live during the early 1900’s.  Most of their life consisting of racial slurs and the mistreating of the so called “Blacks.”  I enjoyed this great book because as a young African American boy, I enjoy reading about how my ancestors lived, and it reminds me that I am so blessed to live in a time where  blacks are treated the same as the Whites.  Another reason why I loved this book is because the author does an amazing job of retelling his families obstacles and barriers d during their time.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is strongly intrigued by the life of African Americans after the Civil War.  Preferably anyone who is a teenager or older should be able to handle the contents of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this novel!! Some of the chapters were hard to get through, but it was both interesting and painful to read about the effects of racism on Wright's life.  I'm so thankful that blacks and whites are now equal in the eyes of the law. (or at least they should be!)  If I'm ever a high school English teacher, I'm going to make my students read either this or Native Son.
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