NYTimes: “Decades After His Death, Richard Wright Has a New Book Out”

Richard Wright, who died in 1960, is the author of “Native Son” and “Black Boy.” When he submitted “The Man Who Lived Underground,” he said, “I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration.” Below: pages from a draft of “The Man Who Lived Underground.”Credit...Carl Van Vechten and Van Vechten Trust, via the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University



April 14, 2021

“The Man Who Lived Underground,” a novel publishers rejected in the 1940s, is about an innocent Black man forced to confess to the murder of a white couple.

In 1941, Richard Wright, fresh off the success of his novel “Native Son,” sent his editor the draft of a new book called “The Man Who Lived Underground.”

It is the story of Fred Daniels, a Black man who is detained and beaten by the police, who coerce him into a false confession that he killed a white couple. He escapes, then flees to the sewer system, where he takes refuge in a cave and, in a series of allegorical passages, peers into a church and gains access to businesses and other facilities through their basements. Daniels eventually returns to the light of day, eager to share the lessons he learned underground, but is greeted with indifference and cruelty. … continued


A major literary event: an explosive, previously unpublished novel from the 1940s by the legendary author of Native Son and Black Boy

Fred Daniels, a Black man, is picked up by the police after a brutal double murder and tortured until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. After signing a confession, he escapes from custody and flees into the city’s sewer system.

This is the devastating premise of this scorching novel, a masterpiece that Richard Wright was unable to publish in his lifetime. Written between his landmark books Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), at the height of his creative powers, it would eventually see publication only in drastically condensed and truncated form in the posthumous short story collection Eight Men (1961).

Now, for the first time, by special arrangement with the author’s estate, the full text of this incendiary novel about race and violence in America, the work that meant more to Wright than any other (“I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration”), is published in the form that he intended, complete with his companion essay, “Memories of My Grandmother.” Malcolm Wright, the author’s grandson, contributes an afterword.

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