Richard Wright’s 1945 Black Boy was originally written in two parts. The first section detailed life in the South and the second section was to explore life in the North after migrating to Chicago. Author Isabella Wilkerson explains:

When Wright wrote his 1945 autobiography, the Book of the Month Club insisted that he cut the second half (about the North) and change the title from American Hunger to Black Boy. He wanted the book published so he conceded to their request. But that left the book without the ending it needed so he hastily came up with an alternative passage. Because he was forced to write quickly and succinctly, the passage summarized in a way he had not achieved in the text itself the longing and loss of anyone who has ever left the only place they ever knew for what they hoped would be a better life on alien soil.

Wilkerson used a line from that passage as the title for her monumental history of the great migration. The passage from Richard Wright that she quotes in her book is below.

I was leaving the South
To fling myself into the unknown. …
I was taking a part of the South
To transplant in alien soil,
To see if it could grow differently,
If it could drink of new and cool rains,
Bend in strange winds,
Respond to the warmth of other suns
And, perhaps, to bloom.


Wright describes himself and his migration journey with words usually used for describing plants. Consider the metaphor. How are humans like plants? To what extent is a journey of migration similar to transplanting a plant in new soil?

You might use the Same Different Gain thinking routine from Project Zero for an extended reflection of the metaphor Wright used.

What words would you use to describe the tone of the passage?

Consider how stories of internal migration, within a country, are both similar and different to stories of immigrants who have crossed national borders in their migrations.

Wilkerson explains that the original title of Black Boy was American Hunger. What does the title American Hunger suggest about his aspirations for the book. What was gained and what was lost in the choice of Black Boy as the title for publication?

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