*An unpublished novel about race and police brutality by legendary writer Richard Wright is set to be released 80 years after publishers rejected it.
“The Man Who Lived Underground” will be released by Library of America on April 20 along with an unpublished essay by Wright, “Memories of My Grandmother.” It comes amid the nation’s racial reckoning around systemic racism, sparked by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
The writer’s eldest daughter, Julia Wright, unearthed the unpublished work years ago at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and approached Library of America about releasing it. According to Axios, portions of the novel appeared in a short story published in 1944 and in a posthumous 1961 collection, but a complete version has never been released.
The novel follows Fred Daniels, a Black man who is framed by police for a double murder he didn’t commit. After being tortured and forced to confess, Daniels escapes from police custody and disappears into the city’s underground sewer system, where he observes the world by looking up.
At the time of its completion, American publishers roundly rejected the novel due to its subject matter on racism and police brutality in the 1940s, even after Wright gained international fame for his 1940 novel, “Native Son.”
“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 than ‘The Man Who Lived Underground,'” Wright wrote in an essay.
Below, Julia Wright appears in a panel discussion about The Man Who Lived Underground along with Kiese Laymon, acclaimed Mississippi writer; Charlie Braxton, hip hop scholar and poet; Jerry Ward, the foremost Richard Wright scholar; Kevin Powell, author and activist; and C. Liegh McInnis, professor and writer, who moderates the session.