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Richard Wright's book about police brutality on a Black suspect is published, 80 years later

Richard Wright book
Posted at 3:11 PM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 15:11:50-04

More than 60 years after the death of Richard Wright, a book he wrote immediately after “Native Son,” that was dismissed by his publisher, is being released.

“Native Son” was written in 1940, and it was a sensation. His next novel, “The Man Who Lived Underground,” was not quite what his publisher was expecting in the winter of 1941.

The story focuses on Fred Daniels, a Black man who is picked up by police after a double murder. Daniels is beaten and tortured until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. He is able to escape from police custody and flees into the city’s sewer system.

At the time, reports say, his publisher gave vague reasons for not publishing the book.

Wright moved on to other projects, including the memoir “Black Boy” in 1945, and never saw the full publication of “The Man Who Lived Underground.”

After his death in 1960, a posthumous collection of Wright’s short stories included a truncated version of the story with many of the scenes between the white officers and Daniels trimmed out.

Now, the organization Library of America, along with Wright’s daughter and grandson, are releasing the entire book. It became available Tuesday.

The release of “The Man Who Lived Underground” includes a memoir from Wright in which he reflects on the writing of the book.

“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, experiences, and feelings than The Man Who Lived Underground.”

Library of America has spent decades going through Wright’s writings. In 1990, they discovered his books “Native Son” and “Black Boy” had been censored near the time of publication, and they re-released the books in their complete state.