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Haygood pens book about Thurgood Marshall

By Megan Bowers, Senior Staff Writer

Wil Haygood ('76) would have never guessed that being fired from his job as a retail executive in New York City would lead to the journalistic success he has today.

"I wanted to find a career I was passionate about and I had always liked writing," said Haygood.

He started out as a copy editor for a small newspaper, The Charleston West Virginia Gazette, and quickly moved up the ranks, writing as a foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe and eventually as a national correspondent for the Washington Post.

During his time at The Boston Globe, he began his journey as an author, writing his first of seven books, "Two on the River," about a 45-day trip he took down the Mississippi.

He continued to write books as his journalistic career evolved and eventually pursued a solo career as an author.

His most recent book, "Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Vote That Changed America," took a total of five years to research and write.

"When writing a nonfiction historical book, I will travel around the country to research on that person," said Haygood. "In the case of Thurgood Marshall, I tried to find people who knew him and who had seen him in the courtroom as a lawyer."

The challenge with this form of research is that the people he wanted to talk to were often of a more advanced age.

"It was a lot of digging, trying to find names, trying to find where the people lived, assessing if their memory was still sharp to remember all these events," said Haygood. "I felt very fortunate to find the people who I did."

For "Showdown," Haygood chose to write a nonlinear biography that takes the reader back and forth between Room 2228 in the U.S Senate Building in Washington D.C, to the hometowns of the senators, so you can understand why they did or did not approve of Thurgood Marshall becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

"Thurgood Marshall was a very brave man, he fought for human rights and human dignity for all people, black as well as white, men and women, and I like to think that the book comes at a unique time in history, this is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act," said Haygood.

After the success of the "The Butler," a movie based on one of his stories, it came as no surprise to him that there is already talk about turning "Showdown" into a movie or mini-series.

The evening his story about Eugene Allen, the butler who served in the White House for three decades, appeared on the front page of the Washington Post in 2008, he received at least eight offers from movie studios in Hollywood looking to buy the rights to the story.

Eventually the rights were purchased by Laura Ziskin, who hired Daniel Strong as screenwriter and Lee Daniels as Director. Actors such as Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack and Jane Fonda joined the production.

"It was just a stunning array of talent," said Haygood. "I was one of the associate producers on the film and was able to be on set while they filmed and that was a wonderful experience."

Haygood now teaches in the Media, Journalism and Film department at Miami during spring semesters.

"I am very happy to be back in my alma mater teaching film and nonfiction writing, two genres that I am very passionate about," said Haygood.

He was hired to teach part-time following the commencement speech he gave in 2013.

"He is a wonderful writer, but he also knows how to teach writing," said Richard Campbell, chair of the Media, Journalism and Film Department. "Anytime you can get a gifted writer and storyteller in the classroom and give the students a model for how to be a professional, that's what it's all about."

The students who had Haygood as a teacher in the past, recommend the class for aspiring writers.

"I remember the first day of class, him standing in front of us and talking to us made it feel like we were being treated to an intimate lesson on what it meant to be a journalist," said senior professional writing and journalism double major, Alexandria Moore. "I just thought, 'Here was someone who knew what they were doing, knew what they were talking about and had real world experience.'"

Haygood will be speaking about his latest book at 4 p.m. Oct. 5 in Wilks Theater.