A black born on a Mississippi plantation, Wright struggled through a difficult childhood and worked to educate himself. In the 1930s he joined the Federal Writers' Project in Chicago and wrote Uncle Tom's Children (1938), a collection of four novellas that deal with Southern racial problems. His novel Native Son (1940), which many consider Wright's most important work, concerns the life of Bigger Thomas, a victimized black struggling against the complicated political and social conditions of Chicago in the 1930s. In 1932, Wright joined the Communist party but later left it in disillusionment. After World War II, Wright moved to Paris. His other works include Twelve Million Black Voices (1941), a folk history of African-Americans; Black Boy (1945) and American Hunger (1977), two autobiographies; The Outsider (1953) and The Long Dream (1958), two novels; Black Power (1954), an account of his trip to the African Gold Coast; and Eight Men (1961), a collection of stories published posthumously.
See biographies by Constance Webb (1968) and Michel Fabre (tr. 1973); studies by Dan McCall (1969), Kenneth Kinnamon (1973), and David Ray and R. M. Farnsworth, ed. (1973).