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Wil  Haygood

Wil Haygood

Acclaimed Biographer, Pulitzer Finalist, Award-Winning Author & Reporter


"Professor Haygood, thank you for doing what you do with your books and your writing. You inspire us all." - Cong. John Lewis (Ga.)

A prize-winning journalist, biographer and cultural historian, Wil Haygood is the author of seven books including the New York Times bestsellers Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America and The Butler: A Witness to History. His writing has chronicled America’s civil rights journey through the lives and times of Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Sammy Davis, Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson and Eugene Allen, the real-life inspiration for Lee Daniels’ internationally acclaimed film, The Butler. Haygood was a long-time national and foreign correspondent for the Washington Post and Boston Globe, covering events such as Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years, the ascent of President Obama, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and his own experience as the hostage of Somali rebels.  While at the Globe, he was honored as a Pulitzer Prize finalist.  A storyteller for our times, Haygood has earned high praise for connecting the civil rights movement and its iconic heroes with current events and enduring struggles. Read More >

Haygood’s work continues to attract the attention of the media and some of the leading entertainment figures of our time. With the release of the Thurgood Marshall biopic MARSHALL, he has been propelled once again into the media spotlight as the go-to biographer of America’s first African-American Supreme Court justice. The Butler (for which he also served as associate producer) drew Academy Award winners Forest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda and Oprah Winfrey and won numerous awards and nominations. His book, Sweet Thunder, is being adapted for the screen by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions with Golden Globe winner David Oyelowo (Selma) as Sugar Ray Robinson. In Black and White, his biography of Sammy Davis, Jr. is under option to HBO and director Lee Daniels.

Haygood’s path to Pulitzer recognition, the New York Times bestseller list, and the upper echelons of Hollywood defied the odds. Born to a poor single mother and raised in the projects, he became the first in his family to attend college. He recently returned to teach at his alma mater, Miami University in Ohio, as a Boadway Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, combining fellowships with the Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities and Alicia Patterson foundations. Currently on sabbatical from Miami U, Haygood is writing his eighth book and serving as a Patrick Henry Writing Fellow at the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience in Maryland. His forthcoming book, Tigerland: The Miracle of East Broad Street tells the story of America in 1968-69 through the prism of a segregated all-black high school in Haygood’s hometown, Columbus, Ohio.

A highly engaging speaker, Haygood empowers audiences to feel more passionately about their own ideas and personal potential to make a difference.  His talks examine a range of subjects through the lenses of race, social justice and history—combining powerful storytelling and thought-provoking insights.

Inspired by the new film, MARSHALL, Wil Haygood has joined with Thurgood Marshall’s son, John to pay tribute to America’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice in an APB exclusive special program, “MARSHALL: The Enduring Legacy.” Read Less ^

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Thurgood Marshall: Seeking Justice Then & Now

In an America rife with racial and class tensions, it is of paramount importance to honor the lessons of Thurgood Marshall, for they are just as relevant today as they were in the 1940s and 1950s when he was changing, all for the better, the civil rights history of this nation. Read More >

Prize-winning journalist and biographer Wil Haygood has written some of the most riveting narratives about historical figures who have changed the dynamics of American life. But his Thurgood Marshall biography, Showdown, truly captured the zeitgeist: issues of Justice are suddenly back in the news; racial turmoil and the rise of a Nazi movement has stunned politicians on both sides of the divide. A Thurgood Marshall movie, titled Marshall, released in October of 2017, reminds the nation - as Haygood's book did - of this unforgettable American hero. Read Less ^

MARSHALL: The Enduring Legacy

Inspired by the new motion picture, MARSHALL, Thurgood Marshall’s son, John and acclaimed Marshall biographer Wil Haygood celebrate the achievements, bravery and vision of America’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Read More >

Combining the personal recollections of Thurgood Marshall’s son with cultural and historical context from Wil Haygood, author of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America, this exciting new program celebrates the life and legacy of America’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice. "It is an important time in American history to celebrate the life of Thurgood Marshall," says Haygood, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist widely known as the author of The Butler." "There are a myriad of lessons in the life of this great man."

Connecting the issues of today with the life and times of Thurgood Marshall, this unforgettable presentation promotes productive dialog while celebrating the bravery and vision of one of America’s greatest champions of civil rights, women’s rights and the rights of the accused. Read Less ^

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.

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.

Finding New Confidence in America

Racism is a moral crime visited upon our children and that we Americans have to continuously and vigorously fight against it.” -Wil Haygood

Though the mood in America may seem dim, hope is not lost within our country. Author of the award-winning article A Black Writer’s Journey into Poor White America, Wil Haygood explains that there is light within our broken country that causes us to keep fighting. From years of reporting, interviewing and researching across the U.S. for the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, Haygood has seen the inner workings of diverse communities. Pulling from his experiences, Haygood concludes that we need to listen to each other’s anxieties to come together and move forward. He is an expert on the politics of race and class in ways that can both explain America’s current divides and give a hopeful solution for the future. As tensions worsen, ends of a spectrum divide and hate crimes rise, Haygood believes that although we are a community that has unraveled, we have the ability to knit ourselves back together.