Restored Novel by Late Author a 'Profound Critique of Racism'

Richard Wright's 'The Man Who Lived Underground' is already a bestseller
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 13, 2021 10:30 AM CDT
Restored Novel by Late Author a 'Profound Critique of Racism'
This cover image shows "The Man Who Lived Underground," by Richard Wright.   (Library of America via AP)

More than 60 years after his death, Richard Wright is again a bestselling author, and very much in line with the present. The Man Who Lived Underground, a short novel written in the 1940s and never published in full until this spring, is the surreal but credible story of Fred Daniels, a Black man who's tortured by police into confessing to a double murder he didn't commit. Like an inversion of the American road novel or a tale of space travel, Daniels escapes into the city's sewer system and inhabits a world outside the world, making up the rules as he goes along and seeing his old life in a new way. The novel, released by the Library of America, has reached the bestseller lists of the New York Times and the independent booksellers portal Indiebound, among others, per the AP, and has brought new attention to an author defined by his famed Native Son of 1940.

Wright worked on The Man Who Lived Underground not long after Native Son came out, drawing on the true story of a Los Angeles man who lived for more than a year in the city's sewers. Wright's publisher, Harper, turned it down. A shortened version without Daniels' first encounter with the cops was published in a 1944 anthology and appeared in a collection of Wright's work published in 1961, a year after he'd died. Daughter Julia Wright brought up in 2010 a reissue with Library of America, which had already published two volumes of her father's work, renewing her push last summer after George Floyd's murder. One take, from Mississippi playwright Charlie Braxton: He says he was inspired by Wright’s use of a "psychological crime thriller" to serve "as a profound critique of racism/white supremacy and capitalism."

(More Richard Wright stories.)

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