Friday, November 20, 2020

Rediscovering Richard Wright's "The Man Who Lived Underground"

Last week, the Margaret Walker Center hosted "The Black Boy Conversation," celebrating the 75th anniversary of Richard Wright's autobiography. The event included a panel discussion featuring Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Kiese Laymon, Charlie Braxton, Kevin Powell, Wright's daughter Julia Wright, and moderator C. Liegh McInnis. I had a good time listening to the panelists discussing their responses to Wright's work and how he influenced them.   

Toward the end of the event, Julia Wright discussed the upcoming release of Wright's The Man Who Lived Underground. The work was first published as a novella or short story in 1944, and later appeared in Wright's collection Eight Men (1961). I'm excited to engage this fuller version in April 2021. 

Julia Wright revealed that she has been pushing to have this version of Wright's novel released for quite some time. The publishers moved slowly. However, recent events in the world, namely police brutality, apparently inspired movement. She expressed mixed feelings--pleased that the work will finally appear as a novel, but disappointed about the events that had to take place in the world for it to happen. 

I first read Wright's "The Man Who Lived Underground" in the fall of 1996, my second year of undergrad. I read that story along with other works from Wright's short story collection, Eight Men and other books he wrote, including The Outsider (1953), Savage Holiday (1954), Black Power (1954), The Color Curtain (1956), Pagan Spain (1957), and Lawd Today! (1963). 

At the time, I had not fully comprehended what it meant that the editions of Wright's works I was reading had just recently been brought back into print. I was reading versions of Wright's works that had not been previously published. I'll be in a similar position when reading this older yet new version of "The Man Who Lived Underground."   

Back in 1996, I had no idea that the conversation I began having with Professor Jerry W. Ward, Jr., who offered the Wright course, would have persisted so long. This April, when Ward and I exchange emails and have phone conversations about the release of  The Man Who Lived Underground, it will mark twenty-five years of us participating in extended discussions about Wright and his work. 

And what about transforming discussions to humanities projects? In 2003, I began learning from and working with Maryemma Graham on public humanities programming. She got me involved on projects related to Langston Hughes, Wright, Toni Morrison, and various Black poets. The announcement of this book has me thinking on renewed Wright programming.  

As preparation for The Man Who Lived Underground, I'll soon re-read and publish entries about "The Man Who Lived Underground."  


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