From Tabloid to Myth:
"The Man Who Lived Underground"

I

ALWAYS interested in new ideas and conscious of his responsibilities as a black intellectual, Richard Wright must nevertheless be considered, when one delves into his fiction, primarily as a storyteller for whom a good narrative is valid for what it relates as much as for what it signifies. One constantly finds traces in him of the poor black child who owes his spiritual survival in racist Mississippi and, in part, his vocation as a writer to detective stories, popular fiction, and dime novels. Indeed, he was always drawn towards stories in which truth is stranger than' fiction; and after bringing unlikely events into his novels, he took a sly pleasure in disclosing the authenticity of episodes which his bewildered readers had taken for wild fabrications.

We can easily imagine his delight when he came across, in the August 1941 issue of True Detective, "The Crime Hollywood Couldn't Believe", written by Hal Fletcher from the account given by Lt. C. W. Gains of the Los Angeles Police. One night in November, 1931, the sub-manager of the local branch of the Owl Drug Company had deposited eleven thousand dollars in the safe of his store, and, on opening the intact safe! the following morning, the director had not found a trace of the money in it. As the two men were above all suspicion, and there was no sign of burglary, the mystery remained unsolved. Two weeks later, the safe of a clothing store -- to which only the owner possessed the key -- was emptied. in the same way. Then there was an epidemic of thefts; linen, jewelry, typewriters, food, blankets, books, etc., disappeared by magic always in the same neighborhood. In the spring of the following year, the field of those mysterious thefts was transferred a few streets. Incredibly enough, the manager of the Baker Shoe Company, who had left two thousand dollars and twenty-six cents in his safe one fine night, found the two thousand dollars there but no sign of the twenty-six cents. Police rounds and surveillance produced no results until the following year, when, at

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