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Wil  Haygood

Wil Haygood

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

Wil Haygood

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


Best-selling author, prize-winning journalist, acclaimed biographer and cultural historian Wil Haygood tells the story of America through the lens of history, politics, sports, race and the lives of change-making African-Americans. Best known as the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Butler and Showdown, his work has chronicled America’s civil rights journey through acclaimed biographies of Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Sammy Davis, Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson and Eugene Allen, the real-life inspiration for Lee Daniels’ award-winning film, The Butler. During the sold-out movie premiere event of the film Marshall, it was with Wil Haygood whom the film’s director Reginald Hudlin wanted to share a stage. Haygood’s unique storytelling talent lies in his ability to connect the dots between the civil rights movement, its iconic heroes, and the enduring struggles of our times. He believes history is not exclusive to any one group but belongs to all Americans, shaping our national identity and common values.

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. Above all, he brings the powerful perspective that this is the history of all Americans, shaping our national identity and common values. His book Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing tells the uplifting story of teams from a poor, black segregated high school that won two state championships in the same year, uniting a racially charged community in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King. The Wall Street Journal, praised Haygood’s juxtapositions of race and class against the historic backdrop of the events of 1968-69, declaring Tigerland “a haunting, unforgettable book.” The book has won the Ohioana Book Award, was runner up for the Dayton International Literary Peace Prize and was a Hooks National Book Award Finalist. Haygood’s latest book, Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World, considered one of the Best Books of 2021 by NPR, gives an unprecedented history of Black cinema and a groundbreaking perspective on racism in modern America. Haygood uses the struggles and triumphs of the artists, and the films themselves, as a prism through which to explore Black culture and the civil rights movement.

Haygood’s talent for looking at events from multiple points of view comes from his background as a journalist. For thirty years, he was a 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 for feature writing. The author of eight books, Haygood continues to capture the attention of the media and some of the leading entertainment figures of our time. 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 biography of Sugar Ray Robinson, Sweet Thunder, is being adapted for the screen by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions with Golden Globe winner David Oyelowo (Selma) as Robinson. In Black and White, his biography of Sammy Davis, Jr. is under option to director Lee Daniels. Haygood was also called upon as the go-to biographer of Thurgood Marshall when the biopic MARSHALL drew renewed interest in the life and career of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

Born to a poor single mother and raised in the projects, Haygood’s path to Pulitzer recognition, the New York Times bestseller list, Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, receiving the Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award and the upper echelons of Hollywood has defied the odds. He became the first in his family to attend college, studying urban studies and English literature while playing on the junior varsity basketball team at Miami University (Ohio). In 2013, he returned to his alma mater as a Boadway Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence in the Department of Media, Journalism & Film. In the fall of 2018, Haygood debuted his book, Tigerland to the Miami University community at their convocation. For his contributions to the university and society, he was presented with the Miami University President’s medal, the highest honor the university awards. Haygood's other honorary degrees are from Loyola University (Chicago), Ohio Wesleyan University, Hood College, Goucher College and Ohio Dominican University.

Truly an inspirational speaker, Haygood has been described as “a powerful presence,” “out of this world,” and “hitting exactly the right heart and message.”  Not unaccustomed to standing ovations, he leaves audiences inspired, moved and with a deeper, richer understanding of our shared American story.

Speaker Videos

Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films In A White World – Book Trailer


Tigerland part 2

Exercise the Vote

Celebration of Learning

Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America

Tigerland Way

Speech Topics

How African American Art Shaped Our Cultural Tapestry

In celebrating the entire history of African Americans and the arts, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is dedicating its 98th Annual Black History Theme to African Americans and the arts in 2024. To bring this special month into even more focus, Wil Haygood, prize-winning journalist, biographer and historian, shares the stories of Black Americans and their seminal roles in the arts. Haygood has covered a great many subjects in this arena, having written about the silent era of Black film to the cascading works of Ava DuVernay and Spike Lee. Among the many artists Haygood has interviewed and written about are Eartha Kitt, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Angela Bassett, Lola Falana, August Wilson and Louis Gossett Jr. Haygood served as associate producer of the award-winning film The Butler, based on a series of articles and a book he wrote about White House butler Eugene Allen, an African-American man who served eight presidents during a 34-year career inside the White House and lived long enough to see the nation’s first African-American president elected. The Butler featured an all-star cast with Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Forest Whitaker and Lenny Kravitz among them and was helmed by Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels. Simply put, Haygood has chronicled and spoken about Black arts in America with a verve and style unmatched by many.

Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World

Best-selling author, prize-winning journalist, acclaimed biographer and cultural historian Wil Haygood has told the story of America through the lens of history, politics, sports, race and the lives of change-making African-Americans. Now he is sharing the unprecedented history of Black cinema, and a groundbreaking perspective on racism in modern America. Hear about the struggles and triumphs of the artists and the films themselves, as Wil explores Black culture and the civil rights movement in America.

Healing America: From Tigerland to Today

In the school year of 1968 – 68, America was mourning the heartbreaking assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Cities were aflame, citizens were rioting, and America was divided like never before. Against this racially charged and politically polarized backdrop, an impoverished, all-black high school in Columbus, Ohio showed the nation how to start on the road to healing. Master storyteller Wil Haygood draws from his latest book, Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing to share this remarkable year in the life of East High School. First, they won the state BASKETBALL championship. Then, two months later, they won the state BASEBALL championship. In addition, they fielded a prize-winning debate team and would send more students to college than ever before. The school more than made history. By setting a remarkable example of fortitude and grace through what they had achieved, they helped ease racial tensions in their city. Connecting politics, history, the drama of sports and the powerful personal stories of the athletes, students and their accomplishments, Haygood creates an unforgettable experience. He also makes important connections to the climate of today. Audiences are exalted, inspired and gain invaluable perspective on a year that continues to impact American culture and politics.

Taking a Knee & Standing Tall for our Constitutional Rights

When it comes to sports, race, and the quest for freedom, cultural historian Wil Haygood has a scintillating narrative to share—one that brings important context to our current national conversation about the NFL and Colin Kaepernick contretemps. Drawing from his major biographies of two seminal American figures—Thurgood Marshall and Sugar Ray Robinson—Haygood shows the timeless intersection between sports, race, and constitutional rights. Sugar Ray Robinson, the champion prizefighter, fought for the rights of athletes to partake in revenues from athletic team owners. Famed attorney and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued throughout his life that the U.S. Constitution was a bulwark in favor of protest and peaceful dissent. Haygood also previews his newest book, TIGERLAND, which tells the triumphant story of an all-black high school in the 1968-69 school year in Columbus, Ohio, that won, amidst so much national pain, two state championships, basketball and baseball, in the same year. Combining talented storytelling with profiles in social activism, Haygood shares important lessons from history and shines new light on today’s fight for justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. & Why He Endures

Wil Haygood's mother was born in the civil rights soaked city of Selma, Alabama. It is little wonder that as Wil was growing up in Ohio, he was always curious about the civil rights era and Martin Luther King—a passion that he later pursued as an award-winning reporter for the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. During his writing career, Haygood has interviewed and written about many of the men and women who worked in MLK's orbit and wrote a great many stories while traveling across the American South. In fact, it was his front page Boston Globe story about the dilapidated conditions that the Lorraine Motel had fallen into that caught the nation's attention and led to a groundswell to have the motel refurbished. In this moving keynote, Haygood examines why Martin Luther King’s quest to make our nation more fair and just still endures, examining issues such as economic equality, voting rights, the criminal justice system, and gender rights.

Showdown: Honoring the Lessons of Thurgood Marshall

Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America, Wil Haygood’s acclaimed biography of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, illustrates one of the most bruising battles of a Supreme Court nominee—and the life of one of America’s most transformative legal minds and champions of human rights. These themes are in the news once again given the changing makeup of the current Supreme Court, but the impact of Thurgood Marshall is everlasting. In this moving keynote, Haygood contends that, in an America rife with racial and class tensions, Marshall’s lessons are just as relevant today as they were in the 1940s and 1950s when he transformed civil rights and the history of America. Connecting the legacy of Thurgood Marshall and the impact of the Supreme Court with the headlines of today, Haygood explores enduring issues of justice while celebrating an unforgettable American hero.

MARSHALL: The Enduring Legacy

Inspired by the 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.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.