Wright was born on a Mississippi plantation, where his father was a sharecropper and where his ancestors had been slaves. In 1913 or 1914, Wright's father left the family for another woman.
In 1915 he and his brother were placed in an orphanage for a short time but their mother took them out again and moved to live with her sister and brother-in-law, who became like a father to the boys. But in 1917 this uncle was murdered by whites, and the Wrights and their aunt fled to Arkansas. In a couple of years his mother's health deteriorated to the point where he and his brother had to leave home again; he was fostered by another aunt and uncle for a short time, and then an unmarried aunt. So his time with his parents, never very stable, ended by the age of 11, although he did have temporary spells when his mother lived with him from 1927 on.
He moved to the North where he began to write in earnest and became a communist. From 1936 he was a successful writer; from 1940 one of the most famous novelists and essayists in America; probably the most successful ever Black author up to that time.
In 1940 he met his father again, but their relationship failed. In 1947, due to racism and US government anti-Communist witch-hunts (although he had by this time left the party) he and his family became permanent expatriates in Paris.
His books include Black Boy, Native Son, The Outsider, Savage Holiday, Pagan Spain, The Color Curtain, White Man, Listen!, The Long Dream and Uncle Tom's Children.
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