Rediscover: The Man Who Lived Underground

On April 20, 2021, Library of America released The Man Who Lived Underground, a previously unpublished novel by Richard Wright, written in the early 1940s and once available only in a highly condensed version in the posthumous collection Eight Men (1961). The Man Who Lived Underground follows Fred Daniels, a Black man arrested and tortured until he falsely confesses to a brutal double murder. Daniels is forced to sign a confession before he manages to escape into the city sewer system. Of The Man Who Lived Underground, Wright said, "I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration." He was unable to find a publisher for the complete novel during his lifetime.

The Man Who Lived Underground is not the first of Wright's work available in its entirety or at all only after the author's death. Unexpurgated versions of Native Son, Black Boy and more were not released until the 1990s. The novella Rite of Passage was published in 1994 and a book of haiku in 1998. Wright left an unfinished novel, A Father's Law, which his daughter released in 2008. That same year, Harper Perennial published an omnibus edition of Wright's nonfiction political works called Three Books from Exile: Black Power; The Color Curtain; and White Man, Listen!. The Man Who Lived Underground ($22.95) includes the companion essay "Memories of My Grandmother" and an afterword by Wright's grandson, Malcolm. --Tobias Mutter

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