by Richard Wright
T E A C H E R ’ S R E S O U R C E G U I D E
LITERATURE TO LIFE® is a performance-based literacy program that presents professionally staged verbatim adaptations
of significant American literary works. The program gives students a new form of access to literature by bringing to life the
world of the book with performances that create an atmosphere of discovery and spark the imagination. Literature to Life
encourages reading, writing, and critical thinking and provides a catalyst for learning and self-expression.
This Literature To Life Teacher’s Resource Guide was written by professional teaching artists with vast experience imple-
menting effective, hands-on strategies in the classroom. It is designed for educators to introduce drama-in-education to
their students, as both a pre- and post-Literature to Life performance guide. The activities presented meet the Learning
Standards for English and the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts. The exercises can be adapted (simplified
or extended) according to the students’ special needs, maturity, interests, and abilities.
Forging the connection between theatre, literature and education is no longer a privilege—it is our responsibility as
educators to not only open these doors, but to charge through them with purpose and certitude.
David Kener, Executive Director
The American Place Theatre
All excerpts from Black Boy by Richard Wright are reprinted here with permission. The text for the Literature to Life performance of Black Boy is taken directly from the book. All rights reserved.
Photography by Paul Coughlin and AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS.
To make the theatre-going experience more enjoyable for everyone, a code of behavior has been
established. When attending theatrical performances, remember these simple rules of conduct.
Be on time for the performance.
Do not eat, drink, or chew gum in the theatre.
Turn off all cellular phones and pagers.
Be sure to use the restroom BEFORE the pre-show discussion begins.
Talk before and after the performance only. Remember that the people near you
and on stage can hear you.
Be an active participant in the pre- and post- show discussions in order to further
deepen your experience with Literature to Life.
Appropriate responses to the performances, such as laughing and applauding, are appreciated.
Act with maturity during romantic, violent, and other challenging scenes.
Do not leave after the performance, a post-show discussion will follow including a
Q&A with the actor.
Open your eyes, ears, and mind to the entire theatrical experience!
The following exercises are designed to be used BEFORE seeing the play!
Section 1: Introduction
Overall Objective: The students will have an introduction to Richard Wright and Black Boy.
About the Author
The students will learn about Richard Wright’s life.
The students will write interview questions based on Richard Wright’s life.
RICHARD WRIGHT (author) was born on September 4, 1908 in Natchez, Mississippi. His father was a sharecropper; his mother a
schoolteacher. At the outbreak of World War II when cotton prices plummeted, the family moved to the North in search of work in the
industrial cities. The pressure of city living eventually became too difficult for the Wright family and Richard spent most of his childhood
moving from one Southern town to another.
In 1938 Richard Wright’s first book, Uncle Tom’s Children, was published. These stories depict a black man in revolt against his environment
and reveal the depth of Wright’s emotional ties to growing up in the South. Although this book is only the first of many works, it
describes Wright’s fascination with the theory that human behavior is determined by environment. In 1945 this theme was the subject
of Wright’s most celebrated novel Black Boy.
Written while Wright was a fervent Communist, Black Boy describes a society that is “pre-individualistic.” In this type of society one
group of people force another group of people to be anonymous due to racism and prejudice. In Wright’s case, white Southerners
separated groups of people according to race while black Southerners, namely in his family, discouraged him from developing freely
as an individual. The title, Black Boy, is significant because it is a non-specific name for a member of the African-American community
and for a young child. At the time there was nothing unique or ambitious about a black boy’s identity, explained Wright.
Richard Wright found pre-individualistic societies to be repressive and intolerable. Black Boy is both a chronicle of Wright’s personal
feeling of alienation as well as his attempt to “lend his tongue to other voiceless Negro boys.” Black Boy is considered an American
tragedy because it depicts both a personal struggle and cry of anguish for the entire human condition.
Other works by Mr. Wright include Native Sun, The Outsider, Black Power, The Long Dream and Lawd Today.
Provide each student with a copy of the biography of Richard Wright. After everyone has read it, discuss Mr. Wright’s theory that
human behavior is determined by environment. Do you agree with his theory?
As an extension, have a volunteer play Richard Wright and, with the help of the class, answer some of the questions on the other
Brainstorm from the Title
Discussion: Hunger and Human Life
Objective: The students will explore the title of Black Boy.
Objective: Students will become familiar with the text and themes in Black Boy.
Hunger stole upon me so slowly that at first I was not aware of what hunger
Have the students brainstorm a list of the types of characters, situations,
really meant. Hunger had always been more or less at my elbow when
emotions, themes, locations, and images they think might be included in
I played, but when I was five years old I began to wake up at night to
a play called Black Boy. Write the list on newsprint. Post it before seeing
find hunger at my bedside, staring at me. The hunger I had known
before this had been no grim, hostile stranger, it had been a normal
hunger that had made me beg constantly for a crust of bread, and when I
ate a crust or two I was satisfied. But now for the first time in my life, I have
to pause and think of what’s happening to me.
Discussion: Judging a Book by its Cover
The first hunger we feel as children is physical. As we mature, how do our
Objective: The students will discuss their expectations of Black Boy from looking at
hungers change to encompass our psychological and social needs?
the words and images on the book’s cover. Discuss the choices made by publishers
and executives to put the images and words on the cover.
Richard Wright uses a metaphor to describe hunger in Black Boy, “Hunger
stole upon me so slowly…” Discuss ways in which hunger is a thief.
Create your own metaphor for hunger.
Now I hunger to share the dominant assumptions of my time and act upon
Bring in a copy of Richard Wright’s book Black Boy. Ask the students
them…Why do I do that? My problem is here, here with me, here in this
to look at the cover of the book.
room, and I will solve it here alone or not at all. Yet I do not want to face it;
it frightens me. I go out into the streets. Halfway down the block I stop. Go
• Is there a picture or image? What function do those images have?
back. I return to my room determined to look squarely at my life. Well, what
Note, too, the colors on the cover. What do the colors mean and why
did I get out of living in the city? What did I get out of living in the South?
were they chosen? Do these images help sell this edition?
What did I get out of living in America? I know that all I possess are words
and dim knowledge that my country has shown me no examples of how to
• What words did the publishers choose to put on the cover? In what
live a human life. All my life I have been full of a hunger for a new way to live.
font is the title of the book? What other words or phrases are on the
cover? Do these words and phrases help sell this edition? Are you
more likely to buy a book or magazine based on images or words? Are
What does Richard Wright mean when he writes, “I know that all I possess
there images and words on the back cover?
are words and dim knowledge that my country has shown me no examples
• Why did Mr. Wright choose this title?
of how to live a human life?”
What do you think it means to live a “human life?”
Post-show follow up: Ask the students to create a poster or book cover for
Do you agree or disagree that the role of a community, city and country
Black Boy. They can cut images out of magazines and newspapers or draw
is to give people guidance on how to live a “human life?”
them. What words will they include and why?
What role has your community, city and country played in developing the
kind of person you have become?
Section 2: Events in the Civil Rights Movement
Homer vs. Plessy
It was ruled that segregated railroad cars were not unconstitutional as long
as they were “separate but equal” to the other cars. “The Fourteenth Amendment…
could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color or a
commingling of the races.”
A Civil Rights Section is created in the Department of Justice to
Richard Wright’s Native Sun is published.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York becomes the East’s first black Congressman.
Richard Wright’s Black Boy is published.
Pictured above: Members of the black community vote in a South Carolina Democratic primary
Gwendolyn Brooks is the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in
for the first time since 1876 on August 10, 1948. In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that blacks cannot be denied the right to vote in primary elections. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS
poetry for her collection of poems, Annie Allen.
NAACP brings cases against various school districts and universities to the
Supreme Court to take issue with the policies of segregation under which
they are run.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka
states that segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
Please review the highlights of the Civil Rights Movement with your
December 1, 1955–Rosa Parks refuses to move to the back of a bus thereby
students and ask them to each research and present one event
violating the bus segregation ordinance in Montgomery, Alabama. A bus boycott
from the list below to the class.
organized by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. begins on Dec. 5th and lasts 381 days.
Four black students sit at a “white only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North
Carolina. This sparks demonstrations and sit-ins throughout the South.
Dr. Martin Luther King leads a march on Washington, DC.
Civil Rights workers march from Selma to Montgomery.
Thurgood Marshall is elected to the Supreme Court.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first volume of five in the
autobiographical series by Maya Angelou, is published.
Toni Morrison wins the Nobel Prize for Fiction for her novel Beloved.
October 16th–the Million Man March is held in Washington, DC.
Adapted from www.infoplease.com
The following exercises are designed to be used BEFORE seeing the play!
The following exercises are designed to be used AFTER seeing the play!
Section 3: Post-show Activities
The following questions can be used as either discussion or essay topics:
1) Richard Wright said that one of the reasons he wrote Black Boy was
to “lend his tongue to the voiceless Negro boys of the South.” Who do
you consider to be voiceless in today’s society? Who is expressing for
these people? Writers, musicians, artists . . . ?
2) Richard Wright says, “I hunger for books, for new ways of looking and
seeing.” What books have given you a new way to look and see? What
other life experiences have expanded your thoughts about the world?
3) If Richard Wright was alive today, do you think he would be encouraged
or discouraged about the change in our country? How is life in Southern
California today different from the racial situation in the South in the
4) When Richard Wright first reads H.L. Mencken, he is astonished by
the writing style. He says, “This man is fighting, fighting with words.
He uses words as a weapon, uses them like a club. Could words be
weapons?” Discuss words as weapons. Have you experienced the
positive impact of words in your own life? Have you experienced the
destructive power of words in your own life?
5) Ralph Ellison compares Black Boy to Blues Music. Ellison believes
that the attraction of the blues is that “they express both the agony of life
and the possibility of conquering it through sheer toughness of spirit.”
Discuss. Write a Blues song based on Richard Wright’s life or an event
in your own life. Tell the same story in a Rap version.
6) How did seeing a live theatre performance contribute to your experience
of Black Boy? How would it have differed if you had seen a movie version?
Were there any additional scenes from the book, Black Boy, you would
have liked included in the Literature to Life performance?
7) For what do you hunger?
Pictured above: Richard Wright, author of Black Boy, shown here at his typewriter in New York, March
27, 1945, is militant in his determination to help blacks win economic rights. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS
Status Role Play
Objective: Students gain an understanding of social status. Students
Objective: Students will research important events in Richard Wright’s life
relate the exercise to Richard Wright’s experience of race and class.
and present the research through tableaux.
Divide the class into 5-6 groups. Assign each group a time period in
Supplies: One deck of playing cards and safety pins
Richard Wright’s life. (Example: Birth to six, six to twelve, teens, twenties,
Explain that the playing cards represent characters with different status
thirties, and later life)
Using either the text of Black Boy or a time chronology of Wright’s life,
levels. (Example: Face cards are royalty, 8-10 are high society, 5-7 are
each group will chose a significant event in that time period. (Example:
middle class, 2-4 are servants and the Ace is a street person)
burning down the house at age four)
Each student has a card pinned to his/her back. They do not know
The group will present a frozen picture of this event. Every member of
the group must be in the picture but they need not all be human characters.
(Example: one student can be young Richard, another student can be
Students circulate the room as if at a party. They relate to the other
characters based on their status level. (Example: If talking to a servant,
Present the tableaux chronologically.
the student might request a drink of water. If talking to royalty, the student
might request an autograph.) Each student tries to determine his or her
own status based on classmates’ reactions.
What event do you think is being depicted? What is the emotion of the
tableaux? What do you think each character is feeling or thinking? Have
Give the class 2-5 minutes to line up from highest to lowest status
each group discuss why they picked that particular event.
based on how others treated them during the party.
Reveal the cards.
“THE POSITIVE IMPACT THE PLAY HAD ON STUDENTS AND THE AUDIENCE
What helped you determine your status level? Did your character’s
behavior change as you became more aware of your status level?
AS A WHOLE WAS UNBELIEVABLE. WE...WERE OVERWHELMED BY THE
From Black Boy: “It was simply utterly impossible for me to calculate, to
POWER AND BEAUTY OF YOUR PERFORMANCE.”
scheme, to act, to plot all the time. I would remember to dissemble for
short periods, then I would forget and act straight and human again,
~MEREDA DAVIS JOHNSON, DEKALB LAWYERS ASSOCIATION
not with the desire to harm anybody, but merely forgetting the artificial
status of race and class. It was the same with whites as with blacks; it
was my way with everybody.”
Discuss the status of race and class in Black Boy. How does status play
a role in your life?
Objective: The students will brainstorm words, ideas, and feelings from the
Objective: Students will create the end to an improvisational situation.
novel/play of Black Boy.
Students will practice using dialogue and characterization.
Divide the room into two lines facing each other. Designate one line
Participants are split into two groups. Each group lines up behind a poster
Character A and the other line Character B. Their partner is the student
board which lists the letters A through Z. The first individual on line is
directly across from them.
asked to write one word that starts with “A” that captures a theme, feeling,
idea, adjective, verb, or any word that comes to mind regarding Black
Write the first four lines of an improvisational scene on the board.
Boy.(You can limit the categories based on the level of your students.)
The participant then hands the marker to the person behind him/her, who
does the same for the letter “B” and so on until “Z.”
It’s time to go
I’m not ready.
Every participant should be involved and write a word in turn, but can also
But we had a deal.
ask the group for help if he/she cannot think of a word. The first group to
finish wins. When both groups complete the alphabet, they are asked to look
at each other’s words and circle the ones they disagree with. A debate could
Say the opening lines. Have each line of students “echo” you when you
take place in which students have a minute each to explain why they
say their characters’ lines. Each A/B pair will then decide on their
agree/disagree with that word being listed.
characters, the relationship and the specific conflict. Each pair will add
their own dialogue to create an ending. Have them think about the
physicality of their characters (old, young, shy, outgoing, etc...).
Repeat activity with a situation from Black Boy.
Objective: Students will practice using their bodies to communicate an idea
or theme. Students will reflect on the varied interpretations of the theme.
Jump up and catch a Kungry.
Divide students into pairs. Student A is the artist. Student B is the sculpture.
But I’m hungry.
Have student A create a sculpture of B on the theme of “future visions”
There is nothing to eat.
(Examples: Flying Cars, world peace, destroying the environment, graduating
from college. Sculptures can be realistic or symbolic, personal or global)
Here’s a nickel.
Have each student title their sculpture and present to the class.
I don’t want to take it.
Don’t be a fool.
Repeat exercise with B becoming the artist and A being the sculpture.
I don’t want to live with you.
What might Richard Wright have sculpted as his vision of the future?
Again, each A/B pair will then decide on their characters, the relationship
Do you think that we have achieved his vision?
and the specific conflict. Each pair will add their own dialogue to create
an ending. Compare the students’ endings to the endings in Black Boy.
Repeat activity with themes brainstormed in the Alphabet Race exercise.
For example using the theme of “Hunger.”
Writing a Critical Review
Objective: The students will critique the performance of Black Boy.
Imagine that you are the theatre critic for a major newspaper. Your job is to attend performances and review them for the public. You have your
own column and byline.
You have been asked to write a review of Black Boy. Include in your review the following information:
the name of the theatre
the names of the actor, director, writer, playwright, and education facilitators
the date you attended
what you think about the performance
Before beginning to work on your review, read the reviews of theatre productions in newspapers. Cut out those that interest you and bring
them to class. Note the style the critic uses as well as the content as you discuss the checklist.
To prepare your review, consider responding to the following questions:
What do you want to tell your readers about this play?
What were some of the most memorable moments in the play?
What were the surprising moments in the play?
Was the actor believable or non-believable?
How suitable is the play for young audiences and does it strike a chord with realities that youth face today?
Why would you recommend it or not recommend it?
On a scale of one to five, five being the highest, what rating will you give the play?
Decide how you wish to organize the material, sketch out your review and begin writing.
After completing the first draft, read the review to yourself. Evaluate the choices you made in terms of content focus, style, and tone. Writing
is synonymous with revising, so make any changes that will strengthen your writing. Upon making changes, begin writing a second draft.
Again, read to yourself for possible revisions. Type or neatly print your final version in the form of a newspaper review column.
Using other art forms to explore themes in Black Boy:
Richard Wright used writing to communicate and connect. Discuss with your class their choice for self-expression.
Write a poem on the theme of hunger.
Bring in selections of Blues, Hip-Hop and Classical Music. Have
Write a poem with these alternating lines:
students write in a journal while playing short selections of each type
I used to be . . .
of music. Discuss whether music shapes your writing? Did it affect
But now I am . . .
Discuss what Richard Wright might have written in this format.
Compose or select music for a production of Black Boy. Share your
Write an essay, poem, song or newspaper article with the opening line:
selection with the class and explain why you chose that particular
“Words as weapons”
piece of music and how it helps to further the story.
“One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper.” (Alfred Kazin)
Discuss this quote with the class, then using phrases and images,
Ralph Ellison compares Black Boy to Blues Music. Ellison believes
have each student attempt to “construct a home on paper.” Do you
that the attraction of the blues is that “they express both the agony
think that Richard Wright was able to construct a home for himself
of life and the possibility of conquering it through sheer toughness
Write a Blues song based on Richard Wright’s life or an event in your
own life. Tell the same story in a Rap version. How does the style of
the music change the story?
Using pictures and words from magazines, construct a collage that
represents the theme of hunger as expressed in the production of
“KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, AND OPENS THE DOOR TO A WIDE ARRAY
Black Boy. Do the same activity to construct a collage for and about you.
OF CAREER OPPORTUNITIES. THE LIBRARY DIRECTOR AND I ARE DEEPLY
Include images of who you are now as well as images that reflect
your dreams and aspirations.
COMMITTED TO EMPOWERING THE YOUTH OF ATLANTA AND FULTON
Create a collage of words as weapons. Create a collage of words
COUNTY TO PURSUE THEIR DREAMS THROUGH LIFELONG LEARNING.
Create a classroom mural that reflects the individual and collective
hungers of your class. Use quotes from the text of Black Boy and
A PROGRAM SUCH AS YOUR PERFORMANCE, BLACK BOY, ENABLES
write your own thoughts on hunger.
US TO MAKE THAT GOAL A REALITY.”
~DORIS JACKSON, ATLANTA-FULTON PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEMS