Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wil Haygood

Can writers change the world? Wil Haygood, Margarita Engle and Henry Petroski respond

With the National Book Festival fast approaching (Sept. 25 on the National Mall), we have asked participating authors to ponder the power of their pen. In this age of maximum distraction when reading -- and the influence of books -- often lose out to texting, tweeting and other semi-literary activities, we posed the question: Can writers change the world? We're providing answers from a range of Festival contributors -- historians, novelists, childrens writers -- over several days. Wil Haygood, Margarita Engle and Henry Petroski offer today's perspectives.

Wil Haygood is a biographer and a writer in the National section of The Washington Post. Known as an exquisite stylist, Haygood is the author of "Sweet Thunder:The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson," which Gerald Early described in The Washington Post as "certainly one of the best biographies of a boxer ever written."

Here is Haygood's response:

When I think of this question, I think of James Baldwin. Can writers change the world? Baldwin apparently thought so. Witness his works -- "Notes of a Native Son," "The Fire Next Time," all those beautiful and trenchant essays that he turned out in the Sixties. He let his words beat to the rhythms of his heart. The prose -- novels, plays, nonfiction -- had passion. He journeyed into the Kennedy White House to tangle with Jack and Bobby over civil rights. He rolled into Hollywood to tangle with the power brokers who cast the movies. He waded into the deep South with his elfin self to tangle with the mean forces of Mississippi and Alabama. Foreign governments the world over -- in France, in Turkey -- saluted his bravery. To this day, for those who constantly contemplate who we are, how we got from there to here, he remains required reading.

-- Wil Haygood will speak in the History & Biography tent on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 12:20 p.m.

author spotlight

Wil Haygood is a prizewinning Washington Post staffwriter and an acclaimed biographer. His "In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.," won the Zora Neale Hurston-Richard Wright Legacy Award, the ASCAP Deems-Taylor Award and was named Nonfiction Book of the Year by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. "King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.," was named a New York Times Notable Book. His family memoir, "The Haygoods of Columbus," received the Great Lakes Book Award

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