Nearly 80 years ago, Richard Wright became one of the most famous Black writers in the United States with the publication of Native Son, a novel whose searing critique of systemic racism made it a best-seller and inspired a generation of Black writers. In 1941, Wright wrote a new novel titled The Man Who Lived Underground, but publishers refused to release it, in part because the book was filled with graphic descriptions of police brutality by white officers against a Black man. His manuscript was largely forgotten until his daughter Julia Wright unearthed it at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. The Man Who Lived Underground was not published in the 1940s because white publishers did not want to highlight “white supremacist police violence upon a Black man because it was too close to home,” says Julia Wright. “It’s a bit like lifting the stone and not wanting the worms, the racist worms underneath, to be seen.”
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