Richard Wright’s novel of police brutality: The most relevant book of 2021 was written 80 years ago

Richard Wright, in the winter of 1941, was the most successful Black author in America. Only 14 years earlier, he had made the Great Migration, moving from Memphis to Chicago. He had enrolled in the 10th grade in Hyde Park but quickly dropped out and went to work. He sorted mail for the Chicago post office, and he cared for medical-research animals at what was then Michael Reese Hospital, and he sold insurance policies door-to-door on the South Side. Also, he started to write books, and in 1940, his novel “Native Son” was a sensation. As one critic famously presumed, after reading the novel’s blunt force approach to race and poverty, American culture would be changed forever. Wright was a star, and the bestselling author at Harper & Brothers (later HarperCollins), the fabled New York publishing house that claimed the “Little House on the Prairie” series and Thornton Wilder, among others.

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