This Child’s Gonna Live, 1969
Give Me a Child, 1955 (with Lucy Smith)
Children’s/Young Adult Literature:
A. Philip Randolph: Integration in the Workplace, 1990 (biography)
Sarah Elizabeth Wright was born in the town of Wetipquin on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the birthplace of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The pride and heroics of these cultural icons live on in Wright’s books. In “An Appreciation,” the afterword to the 1986 edition of Wright’s acclaimed novel This Child’s Gonna Live, author John Oliver Killens, who was Wright’s mentor, identifies a similarity of faith and humanistic struggle between Wright’s commitment to encouraging humankind and that of the historical models of African American struggle.
Wright’s father, Willis Charles, was an oysterman, barber, farmer, and musician. Her mother, the former Mary Amelia Moore, was a homemaker, barber, farmworker, and factory worker. Wright married Joseph G. Kaye, a composer, and had two children, Michael and Shelley. She attended Howard University (1945-1949) and the former Cheyney State Teachers College (1950-1952). In addition to being a writer, she worked as a teacher, a bookkeeper, and an office manager.
Wright had a rich history of artistic organization. She was a member of the Authors Guild, the Authors League of America, International PEN, and the International Women’s Writing Guild. She served as vice president of the Harlem Writers Guild and as president of Pen & Brush, Inc. (1992-1993), the oldest professional organization of women in the United States. Wright put these experiences together to develop a career as a certified poetry therapist. She has also been active as a lecturer, teacher, and panelist on forums for radio and television talk shows, community centers, and schools.
Wright began writing in the third grade, and during her college years at Howard University she received encouragement from Sterling A. Brown, Langston Hughes, and Owen Dodson. She is best known as a novelist, although her first published work, Give Me a Child, with Lucy Smith, is an illustrated book of poems aimed at making poetry accessible to the general public. Her best-known and most frequently anthologized poem, “To Some Millions Who Survive Joseph Mander, Sr.,” was first published in Give Me a Child. The poem reflects an actual incident in which an African American man drowned while attempting to save a white person. In the poem, Wright urges readers to embrace Mander’s humanism and compassion.
Although Wright published few works, she is critically acclaimed. This Child’s Gonna Live was selected as one of the most important books of 1969 by The New York Times, and the novel was celebrated in 1994, on its silver anniversary, for being continuously in print since 1969. Some readers cite This Child’s Gonna Live as one of the most painful novels they have ever read. The story of Mariah Upshur and her family struggling during the Depression is a dramatic saga of despair. The trials of the Upshur family–thematically centered on Mariah’s resolve to save her children from hopelessness–reflect the realities of early twentieth century poverty and racism. Wright did not attempt to spare readers from understanding the tragedy.
Her later works include A. Philip Randolph: Integration in the Workplace, a young adult book published as part of a series on the history of the Civil Rights movement. Wright died on September 13, 2009 at age 80.