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Richard Wright and the Library Card

Richard Wright and the Library Card

by William Miller Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Many years before author Richard Wright achieved international acclaim for his classic novel, Native Son, he lived in Memphis and worked for an optical company where he swept floors and ran errands for his white employers. It was 1926, and the 18-year-old Wright loved to read; but he could not afford to buy any books and as a black man, he was not allowed into the public library.

Fortunately, Wright worked for a generous man named Jim Falk. Falk cared more about Richard Wright's intelligence and his desire to learn than he did about the color of his skin. Falk lent the young black man his library card and Wright began checking out books for himself, all the while telling the librarian that the books were for Mr. Falk. The world of literature was suddenly opened and in all-night reading sprees Wright devoured the masterworks of Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Stephan Crane, and other writers. His life would never be the same again.

Richard Wright himself wrote about this episode in his autobiography, Black Boy. Here, Gregory Christie's illustrations of the young man and his life in Memphis are personal and touching, and make Wright's hunger for words almost palpable. William Miller manages to retain all the power of the original story even as he makes it accessible to younger readers. Between the illustrations and the story, what certainly comes through is the injustice of ignorance and the power and hope education can provide.

8, 9, 10
Interest Level
Grades 3 - 5
Tandem Library
Biography and Autobiography

About the Author and Illustrator

William Miller
R. Gregory Christie

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