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Wil Haygood

Pulitzer Nominee, Award-Winning Author & Reporter


Best known as the author of the New York Times bestseller The Butler: A Witness to History, Wil Haygood is a distinguished writer whose career has spanned decades. He was an associate producer on the film adaptation of his book, The Butler, which was sparked from his Washington Post article, starred Academy Award winners Forest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda, as well as the incomparable Oprah Winfrey. He worked for 30 years at two of the most premiere papers in America (The Boston Globe and The Washington Post); during that time, he witnessed Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years of imprisonment, was taken hostage by Somalian rebels, covered New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina for 33 straight days without a break, traveled with Barack Obama and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Haygood’s newest book is Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America, a sweeping epic about the tumultuous, real-life events surrounding the heated appointment of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, in 1967. The New York Time’s front page Sunday book review of Showdown said, “Haygood is passionate and eloquent. [He] has done a great service by reminding us of an extraordinary man at an extraordinary moment.” Kirkus Reviews praised Haygood’s account as an “intensely readable, fully explored account of what the New York Times called an ‘ordeal by committee,’ an important hinge in American history.” Publishers Weekly said that “Haygood provides details of [Thurgood Marshall’s] legal triumphs in an accessible way, along with a moving account of his upbringing in Baltimore,” and that “this is the definitive account of the life of a major American hero who deserves wider recognition.” Renowned historian Michael Beschloss applauded Showdown, saying “Wil Haygood has brought us an elegant, fascinating and important tale, rendered with relentless originality and the author’s superb gift of portraiture…the essence of the great Thurgood Marshall, as well as the historical forces and often surprising backstage mechanics that enabled him to become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.”

Haygood speaks on a variety of topics in his presentations; his long career as a reporter covering both national and global affairs makes him an authority on addressing any complex issue. For instance, audiences attending Haygood’s programs will hear a first-hand account of surviving a hostage situation, as well as the life lessons learned from the butler that served eight presidents, from pre-Civil Rights era through the election of President Obama. Translated into over a dozen languages, The Butler: A Witness to History, is the story of Eugene Allen, the White House butler who served U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan—and in doing so, became a “discreet stage hand who for three decades helped keep the show running in the most important political theatre of all.” The film garnered two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture (Forest Whitaker) and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (David Oyelowo). President Obama said: “I teared up thinking about not just the butlers who worked here in the White House, but an entire generation of people... I thought Forest Whitaker was wonderful and Oprah is a wonderful actress.” President Jimmy Carter described the film as: “ of the best dramatizations of the Civil Rights Movement I have seen.” Additionally, Oyelowo credited The Butler (and 12 Years a Slave) as changed the narrative in Hollywood for African Americans. He stated: “I know for a fact that Selma got greenlit after both of those films made almost $200 million each. I know that because Paramount said to us, 'Well, that means that Selma will probably make around $98 million, so let's make it!'"

Determined, talented and persuasive, it’s no wonder that Haygood has come so far. He was the first of his family to attend college and escape poverty; he went on to become a renowned reporter and the author of several nonfiction books, including biographies hailed as “culturally important” by The Los Angeles Times, including King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr., a multiple award winner; and Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson, named a Best Book of the Year by Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, Parade and Mosaic. Acclaimed British actor and Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo (Selma) has signed on to play Sugar Ray Robinson in the film adaptation of Sweet Thunder. Audiences attending his talks come away with a new perspective on not only historical events, but also on their own lives.

While Haygood was recently appointed as the Karl and Helen Wiepking Visiting Distinguished Professor at his alma mater Miami University, and will continue his appointment as Distinguished Scholar. He’s won a slew of other awards and recognitions, and has been named as an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and was given the prestigious Ella Baker Award (named after the Civil Rights pioneer). Much like the content of Haygood’s judges have cited Haygood's literary career “for shedding a light on those who give much, but are little noticed.”


  • Showdown optioned by Pam Williams Productions for film.
  • Showdown won Scribe Book Award (best law related book 2015).
  • Sammy Davis Jr book optioned by HBO/Lee Daniels.
  • Sugar Ray Robinson book optioned by David Oyelow.
  • Released new book in Fall of 2016 Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America, a biography on the first African-American Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall
  • To deliver the August 2015 Summer Commencement at Goucher College and receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
  • Delivered the May 2015 Commencement address and received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Ohio Wesleyan University.
  • Distinguished Scholar in the department of media, journalism and film; Miami University
  • Advisor: Freedom Summer documentary film project
  • Karl and Helen Wiepking Visiting Distinguished Professor, Miami University
  • Author: The Butler: A Witness to History; Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson; In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.; King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; The Haygoods of Columbus: A Love Story; Two on the River
  • Honorary Doctor of Letters, Miami University
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 2013
  • Pulitzer Prize finalist
  • Winner: National Headliner Award; the New England Associated Press Award; Sunday Magazine Editors Award; Paul L. Myhre Single Story Award; Virginia Press Association Award; and National Association of Black Journalists Award
  • Ella Baker Award
  • Yaddo Guest Artist
  • Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow
  • John Simon Guggenheim Fellow
  • Visiting writer; University of Georgia; Ohio State University; and Colorado College
  • National writer; The Washington Post
  • National and foreign correspondent: The Boston Globe


Four Great Modern Legal Cases that Changed American Law and Why they Still Matter

Before he ascended to the Supreme Court in 1967, Thurgood Marshall took four equal rights cases before the United States Supreme Court, winning them all. In 1944, he was victorious in Smith v Allwright, which outlawed discrimination in Democratic primaries. In 1948, the Marshall-led Shelley v. Kraemer case forbade housing owners from inserting into deeds that blacks could not purchase their property upon selling. In 1950 Sweatt v. Painter forced the University of Texas to integrate its law school by admitting a black student. And in 1954 came the titanic Brown v. Board of Education ruling which desegregated the American public school system.

If there is a legal and historic figure from the past who continues to embody the best of American jurisprudence it is Thurgood Marshal, who went from crusading lawyer for the oppressed all the way to a seat on the United States Supreme Court. In his seminal cases that changed American law, we get a sense of why perseverance, grit, and decisiveness have always been hallmarks of great lawyering. Those tenets continue to resonate powerfully in an ever-changing America. Wil Haygood explains why.

The Butler: A Witness to History

This is the amazing story of how journalist and author Wil Haygood tracked down the unknown White House butler Eugene Allen, a story which led to the making of the major motion picture, The Butler. The 2013 movie features seven Academy Award winners, among them Forest Whitaker, Jane Fonda, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Redgrave, and Robin Williams. Haygood served as an associate producer of The Butler.

The story has been so influential, that actor David Oyelowo credits the film adaptation of The Butler as a film that "changed the narrative" of films starring African American leads and points-of-view in Hollywood, and paved the way for Selma, which he starred in.

Little Wil Haygood: From Poverty to the Big Screen

Wil Haygood was born to a single mother in Columbus, Ohio. He became the first in his family to receive a college degree. With a honed writing talent, he became a nationally recognized journalist and biographer. His career has taken him around the world and to the backlots of Hollywood, where his work has attracted the attention of some of the leading entertainment figures of our times.

History, Race & Culture of the US

Wil Haygood has been called one of America's "canniest cultural historians." As journalist and biographer, he has explored the social and historical dynamics of this country as few modern chroniclers have done in books, magazine articles, and award-winning newspaper coverage. It is little wonder that Bostonian magazine once referred to him as a "Young Literary Lion."

The Beauty of the Presidency

In this fascinating presentation, Wil Haygood shares with audiences how American presidents have confronted the country's social issues. He draws on his many visits to presidential libraries in over his years as a biographer—and his dozens of interviews of former White House officials across many administrations—in offering insights into presidential politics.

A Writer's Travels Around the World

From the oil crisis in Nigeria to the war-torn lands of Somalia and Liberia, from the richness of obtaining a South African education, to the heroism of Esther in Zimbabwe—an AIDS-afflicted woman who cared for 10 nieces and nephews and received an outpouring of international help because of Wil Haygood's reporting—this is an evening of scintillating and inspiring stories from around the world. Haygood's journeys as a globe-trotting foreign correspondent (he was once taken hostage in Somalia by rebels) will enthrall you.

Serving the Underserved: Why Thurgood Marshall's Model Works

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