Wright wrote the entire manuscript in 1943 under the working title, Black Confession. By December, when Wright delivered the book to his agent, he had changed the title to American Hunger. The first fourteen chapters, about his Mississippi childhood, are compiled in "Part One: Southern Night," and the last six chapters, about Chicago, are included in "Part Two: The Horror and the Glory." In January 1944, Harper and Brothers accepted all twenty chapters, and was for a scheduled fall publication of the book.
In June 1944, the Book of the Month Club expressed an interest in only "Part One: Southern Night." In response, Wright agreed to eliminate the Chicago section, and in August, he renamed the shortened book as Black Boy. Harper and Brothers published it under that title in 1945 and it sold 195,000 retail copies in its first edition and 351,000 copies through the Book-of-the-Month Club.
Parts of the Chicago chapters were published during Wright's lifetime as magazine articles, but the six chapters were not published together until 1977, by Harper and Row as American Hunger. In 1991, the Library of America published all 20 chapters, as Wright had originally intended, under the title Black Boy (American Hunger) as part of their volume of Wright's Later Works.
The Book of the Month Club played an important role in Wright's career. It selected his 1940 novel, Native Son, as the first Book of the Month Club written by a black American. Wright was willing to change his Black Boy book to get a second endorsement. However, he wrote in his journal that the Book of the Month Club had yielded to pressure from the Communist Party in asking him to eliminate the chapters that dealt with his membership in and disillusionment with the Communist Party.