Notable author Wil Haygood will be at this year’s Books by the Banks festival Oct. 20.
How does writing a book compare to newspaper reporting?
I’ve always felt that the book writing has helped me become a better journalist. And that the journalism has helped me become a better author. They’ve rather fed one another. The skills in each genre are quite different, but writing is writing and reporting is reporting. Books, of course, require a long form structure and a different storytelling device.
What made you decide that now was time to tell the story of Tigerland?
Books tend to find us. This was a story set in 1968-1969. So there was already great drama swirling in America. Behind that political and cultural drama was a story in Columbus, Ohio, that fascinated me: An all-black high school, East High School, won both the state basketball and baseball championship in the same year. It was an astonishing athletic feat. To win TWO state championships two months apart is almost unbelievable. And they won those championships amidst constant turmoil. I thought it was a great saga that needed telling.
There wasn’t any grand scheme to the timing of the publication of Tigerland. The story was just there, hovering, and I grabbed ahold of it. But it does seem mighty timely now, what with the rise of social activism from black professional athletes, and many other concerned athletes. Athletes have a right to address issues of racial inequality, no matter what some commentators and powerful politicians might say. This is the land of the free.
How did you feel when Miami choose your book for convocation?
I was extraordinarily moved that Miami University, my alma mater, chose Tigerlandas its 2018 Freshman Read. Any writer would be deeply touched by such faith in their book. Tigerlandrevolves around a story that happened 50 years ago, but many of its themes – racism, political scandal, economic injustice —are all in the news once again.
What are you looking forward to most at Books by the Banks?
Tigerland is set in Ohio, and I think many readers around the nation will be intrigued by this story, but especially in Ohio. The basketball team in this book also played in Cincinnati during their mythical season. As well, I have many friends — and some cousins — who live in Cincinnati. It will be fun to be there.
I’ve been influenced by a variety of authors, among them James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Robert Caro, Richard Rhodes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alice Walker, and Lorraine Hansberry.
What book(s) are on your bedside table right now?
I’m in a phase of reading short stories at the moment. So The Stories of John Cheeveris near my nightstand now.
What advice do you give young writers?
I relocated a few years after college. I left Ohio and went to live in New York City. I was 24 years old. And while it was hard living, it also gave me some valuable life experiences. Young writers need to get out into the world. To have some challenges and come back from them. It strengthens the resolve, which any writer needs.
Wil Haygood is currently a Visiting Distinguished Professor in the department of media, journalism, and film at Miami University, where he graduated in 1976 with a degree in urban planning. For nearly three decades he was a journalist, serving as a national and foreign correspondent at The Boston Globe, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and then at The Washington Post.
He is the author The Butler: A Witness to History; Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America; Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson; In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.; Two on the River; King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; and The Haygoods of Columbus: A Family Memoir. The Butler was later adapted into the critically acclaimed film directed by Lee Daniels, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.
He has received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and the 2017 Patrick Henry Fellowship Literary Award for his research on Tigerland. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Read more about Haygood at https://miamioh.edu/tigerland/haygood-bio/.