Jay Wright was born in 1935 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Leona Dailey, a Virginian of black and Native American ancestry. His father, George Murphy, a light-complexioned African American construction worker, jitney driver, and handyman who later adopted the name of Mercer Murphy Wright, claimed both Cherokee and Irish descent. Wright remained with his mother until the age of three, when Leona gave the boy to the cook Frankie Faucett and his wife Daisy, a black Albuquerque couple known for taking in children. Daisy Faucett was as religious as her husband was proud and generous. Wright’s early, intense exposure to the African American church was attributable to her. Mercer Wright, in the meantime, had relocated to California. It was not until his son was in his early teens that he went to live with his father, and later his stepmother Billie, in San Pedro. During his high school years in San Pedro, Wright began to play baseball. In the early 1950’s, he was a minor-league catcher for the San Diego Padres, the Fresno Cardinals, and the Aguilars of Mexicali. He also learned to play the bass in those days. In 1954 he joined the U.S. Army, and he served in the medical corps until 1957. He was stationed in Germany for most of that time, which gave him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe.
A year after his return to the United States, Wright enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, under the G.I. Bill. At Berkeley, he devised his own major in comparative literature and graduated after only three years. Before deciding to continue his literary studies, Wright considered studying theology and spent a semester at...
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