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Richard Wright's 'The Man Who Lived Underground' To Be Posthumously Published


Eighty years ago, Richard Wright was America's leading Black author. His debut novel, "Native Son," was a best-seller. But when he turned in a manuscript for his new book, his publisher, Harper & Brothers, said no.

JOHN KULKA: We can certainly say that the book was too hot to handle.

KING: That's John Kulka, the editorial director at the Library of America.

KULKA: This novel would have been problematic for Harper & Brothers with its graphic depiction of police brutality against a Black man.


Today, the library is releasing a complete version of the book for the first time. It's called "The Man Who Lived Underground." And it tells the story of a Black man named Fred Daniels, who is framed for a double homicide. The book deals explicitly with white-on-Black violence. Richard Wright's daughter Julia told us that idea was unacceptable to white audiences in the 1940s.

JULIA WRIGHT: I read those pages, and then it just hit me like a ton of bricks.

KING: And she says there's something eerie about the novel being published now.

WRIGHT: The brutality of the police against George Floyd and the brutality described by Richard Wright against Fred Daniels - it is unbearable.

KING: She says she believes the country still needs to hear these truths.

(SOUNDBITE OF AHMAD JAMAL'S "PAPILLON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.