“At the age of twelve, before I had had one year of formal schooling, I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase, a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay, a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone, a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter, a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering.”
An unpublished 1942 novel from the author of Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945) finally sees print in 2021:
The Man Who Lived Underground
Published for the first time in its entirety, The Man Who Lived Underground was written by Wright in 1942 and published 80 years later. Rejected by his publishers, Wright wrote to them in its defense: “I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration, or expressed myself in a way that flowed more naturally from my own personal background.”
It is the story of Fred Daniels, a Black man who is randomly picked up by the police as a suspect in the brutal double murder of a white couple. He is detained, beaten and tortured until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. 80 years later, this sounds frighteningly like a story that could have been pulled from the headlines today.
Daniels eventually manages to escape, climbing into a manhole. He leaves the surface world and his pregnant wife behind as he begins a new life living in the underground sewers of the city. Underground, Daniels becomes truly invisible, and free. But at what cost?