Native Son (1940) is Richard Wright’s first published novel. The main character, Bigger Thomas, a young man living in Chicago during the 1930s, tries to rise above poverty and racism but becomes entrapped in a sequence of horrific events. It is a book about the effects of poverty and what it means to be black in America. Although Baldwin criticized Wright for his portrayal of such an angry character, most critics believe that this is Wright’s most powerful work.
Collected Essays (1998) includes Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, The Fire Next Time, No Name in the Street, and The Devil Finds Work. Many critics believe that Baldwin’s writing was strongest when he wrote in the essay form. This book offers the full range of his nonfiction work.
W. E. B. Du Bois wrote essays almost fifty years before Baldwin was published. However, their topics run along very similar lines. W. E. B. Du Bois: Writings (1986) includes most of his collections of essays, such as The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade, Souls of Black Folk, and Dusk at Dawn.
Zora Neale Hurston, an African-American writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance Movement of the 1920s, is most famous for her fiction. However, she was a prolific writer of essays, which can be found in her Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings (1995).
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), although criticized by Baldwin, remains a classic. Stowe wrote the book to publicize the need to end slavery.
Everything and Nothing: The Dorothy Dandridge Tragedy (2000) tells the rags-to-riches story of this African-American movie actress, who rose from humble beginnings, won an Academy Award, and died under very suspicious circumstances.
Langston Hughes, a contemporary of Baldwin’s, was both a poet and a fiction writer. His The Ways of White Folks (1969) is a collection of stories about the clashes between white and black people in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.
If He Hollers, Let Him Go (1968) was written by another contemporary of Baldwin’s, Chester Himes. The story takes place in southern California in the 1940s and relates the plight of the only black foreman in a shipyard during World War II.