Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 July 2021
Richard Wright’s was truly a life defined by struggle, and by his death at age fifty-two in 1962, he had acquired a massive amount of political baggage that was bursting with a contradictory array of statements and actions. Among other things, Wright stands alone among African American authors of fiction, poetry, and drama in his providing a detailed, autobiographical memoir of life in the Communist Party (CP-USA), which lasted about ten years. Moreover, Wright scholars have long been aware that there was always something elliptical if not cryptic about the articulation of Wright’s political views in the years after his departure from that movement and the United States. This essay begins by demonstrating that much of the present-day confusion regarding Wright’s brand of Marxist politics toward the mid-1940s and after can be traced back to interpretations of what he resolved when he wrote the memoir “I Tried to Be a Communist.” It concludes by querying the extent to which his political evolution was representative--or uncharacteristic--of the experience of the dozens of African American imaginative writers with CP-USA affiliations, every last one of whom drew back from the organization at some point.