“The Man Who Lived Underground reminds us that any ‘greatest writers of the 20th century’ list that doesn’t start and end with Richard Wright is laughable. It might very well be Wright’s most brilliantly crafted, and ominously foretelling, book.” —Kiese Laymon
A major literary event: an explosive, previously unpublished novel about race and violence in America by the legendary author of Native Son and Black Boy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 never-before-seen masterpiece by Richard Wright. Written between his landmark books Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), at the height of his creative powers, it would see publication in Wright's lifetime only in drastically condensed and truncated form, and ultimately be included 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 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.
The power and pain of Wright's writing are evident in this wrenching novel, which was rejected by his publisher in 1942, shortly after the release of Native Son. Fred Daniels, a Black man who lives in an unidentified American city, is on his way home after a hard day's work for the Wootens, a well-to-do white couple. Before he can reunite with his pregnant wife, Rachel, Daniels is unjustly seized by three white cops for the murder of the Wootens' next-door neighbors. After he's beaten, Daniels signs a confession, naively hoping that doing so will enable him to see Rachel. The cops take him to see her ("No one can say we mistreated him if we let 'im see his old lady, hunh?" one says), and she goes into labor, necessitating a rush to the hospital, which provides an opportunity for Daniels to escape. From that point forward, Daniels hides out in the sewers. Wright makes the impact of racist policing palpable as the story builds to a gut-punch ending, and the inclusion of his essay "Memories of My Grandmother" illuminates his inspiration for the book. This nightmarish tale of racist terror resonates.