The Postal Service is honoring one of its own with the release of the 61–cent Richard Wright commemorative stamp April 9. The 25th inductee into the Literary Arts stamp series, the 61-cent stamp will be the two-ounce letter rate stamp when the new postal rates take effect on May 11.
The former Chicago Post Office employee and renowned author is best remembered for his controversial 1940 novel, Native Son, and his 1945 autobiography, Black Boy, portraying racism in American society.
The stamp features a portrait of Richard Wright in front of snow-swept tenements on the South Side of Chicago, a scene that recalls the setting of Native Son.
Life of the Author
Born in 1908 in Mississippi, Wright was the son of Nathan, an illiterate sharecropper, and Ella, a schoolteacher. He was the grandson of former slaves.
Wright’s childhood was fraught with misfortune. The family depended on the kindness of relatives when Richard’s father deserted the family, and Ella was forced to work as a cook to support the family.
Richard entered school in 1915. When his mother fell ill a few months later, Richard and his younger brother, Leon Alan, go to live for a brief time in an orphanage.
Again, Richard, Leon Alan and Ella move, this time to live with Ella’s sister Maggie and her husband Silas Hoskins in Elaine, Arkansas. When Silas is murdered, they escape to West Helena, Arkansas, and then to Jackson, Mississippi.
After a few months, they return to West Helena, where Ella and Maggie take domestic positions.
When Maggie moves to Detroit, Wright enters school in the fall of 1918, but is again forced to leave because of his mother’s poor health. Richard must now earn money to support the family and gathers excess coal next to the railroad tracks in order to heat the home. When his mother suffers a paralyzing stroke, they return with Ella’s mother to Jackson, and Maggie takes Leon Alan to Detroit with her.
At the age of 13, Richard enters the fifth grade and is soon placed in sixth grade. During this time he’s still doing odd jobs to help support his mother.
In the seventh grade, Richard’s grandfather dies, but he still manages to earn enough money to buy textbooks, food and clothes by running errands.
Richard reads anything he can get his hands on. During this time, he writes his first short story, The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre, which is published in the spring of 1924 in the Jackson Southern Register.
In May 1925, Wright graduates valedictorian of his ninth grade. He begins high school, but Leon Alan has returned from Detroit, so he has to quit after only a few weeks so he can earn more money to support his brother.
Two years later, Richard and Maggie move to Chicago where Wright works as a dishwasher and delivery boy until finding temporary employment with the Postal Service. His mother and brother soon move in with Richard and Maggie.
He makes friends at the Post Office, both black and white, writes regularly and attends meetings of black literary groups.
Writing and successfully publishing his work throughout the 1930s, Richard becomes the Harlem editor of the communist paper, Daily Worker. He also helps launch the magazine New Challenge.
With the completion of Native Son, Richard marries Dhima Rose Meadman, a white modern-dance teacher. His book is published in 1940 and the Book-of-the-Month Club offers it as a main selection.
The book is a best-seller and staged successfully as a play on Broadway in 1941 by Orson Welles.
Wright continued to write novels, poetry and short stories until his death in 1960 at the age of 52.
Richard Wright used his pen to battle racism. The Postal Service will use his image to do the same — and to help move the mail.
For more information, go to usps.com or call (800) 782-6724.