By the 1940s, after the publication of Native Son, Richard Wright was the nation's most successful Black author, notes the Chicago Tribune. And yet when he submitted a novel called The Man Who Lived Underground, publishers balked because of its subject matter—racism and police brutality, reports Axios. Eight decades later, the slight is being rectified. The Library of America is releasing the novel on Tuesday, along with an essay by Wright and an afterword by grandson Malcolm Wright, per the New York Times. In the novel, innocent Black protagonist Fred Daniels is arrested by police after the murder of a white couple, then tortured and forced into a confession. He eventually escapes and lives for a while in the sewer system before having an epiphany.
"I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration, or executed any piece of writing in a deeper feeling of imaginative freedom, or expressed myself in a way that flowed more naturally from my own personal background, reading, experience, and feelings," Wright wrote in an essay. He failed to sway publishers, however, and the book gathered dust even after Wright's death in 1960 at age 52. Daughter Julia Wright found the manuscript among his papers at a Yale library. The family is happy it will see the light of day, but Malcolm Wright wonders if things might be different today if a publisher had the "courage" to publish the novel decades ago. "I ... wonder if our conversation on race might have been further along by now," he says. "I mean, if you could pick a book to come along to help our dialogue, this sounds like it.” (Read more Richard Wright stories.)