The United States Postal Service unveiled a first-class stamp yesterday honoring American author and former postal employee Richard Wright. The dedication took place in the lobby of the Chicago Main Post Office, just across the street from the building where the author of Native Son once worked as a letter sorter.
Born in Mississippi in 1908, Wright moved to Chicago in his teens and spent a formative decade on the city’s South Side. As an essayist for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project and organizer of the South Side Writers’ Group, Wright helped spark the efflorescence of Chicago-based African American literature of the 1930s and ‘40s. The influence of the city on Wright’s work is reflected in Kadir Nelson’s artwork for the 61-cent stamp, which depicts the author against a background of wintry South Side tenements.
“This nation experienced a historical event in our most recent presidential election,” said Chicago postmaster Gloria Tyson at yesterday’s ceremony. “It was an event Richard Wright helped to bring about with his often controversial writings; writings of a world view on humanity and politics that were far too forward-thinking for his own generation; writings full of anger, frustration, and indignation stemming from his early life experiences being poor and black in America; writings that appealed to—and appalled —both whites and blacks; writings that eventually helped to direct a change in how America addressed and discussed race relations.”
Wright, who died in 1960 after settling in France, is the twenty-fifth American author to be inducted into the Postal Service’s Literary Arts series. Previous honorees have included John Steinbeck, Herman Melville, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin.