The Outsider by Richard Wright. Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1953.
Richard Wright was born in the town of
Roxie near Natchez in 1908. Both of Wright's grandfathers fought for
the Union in the Civil War and made independent strides after the
war. However, with opportunity and resources so scarce, the
sharecropper family struggled to get ahead. Wright spent a good deal
of his childhood in Jackson with his grandparents Richard and Maggie
Wilson. Denied the right to vote, their lives restricted by
segregation, the family faced an uphill battle. Wright's teachers,
however, took notice of his intellectual ability at Jim Hill School,
and later he would graduate valedictorian at Smith Robertson and have
one his first attempts at fiction, “The Voodoo of Hell's
Half-Acre,” published in the Southern Register.
Throughout Wright's life one question
followed him no matter where he lived, no matter what freedoms he did
or did not enjoy: “How can I live freely?” After moving to Paris,
France in 1946, Wright continued his philosophical exploration of
freedom and individuality, publishing The Outsider, significant for
its departure from social realism seen in the hugely popular Black
Boy. In contrast,
The Outsider received negative reviews
citing an emotional and psychological disconnect from his African
American roots, but the novel remains a significant testament to
Wright's impact on American letters and his courage to examine social
His legacy remains in Jackson through
the Richard Wright Center for the Written Word at Jackson State
University, very close to where he lived with his grandparents, and
his inclusion in the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center.
Collecting signed first editions of Wright's books in English is
challenging since he lived much of his adult life in France, while
first editions are less difficult to find with original dust jackets
in good condition.
Written by Lisa Newman