Wil Haygood: Reading about history, race, and family

HAYGOOD: I just finished “The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy B. Tyson. I learned a lot even though I know a lot about the Till case. The news of the book is that he tracked down Carolyn Bryant, the white woman at the center of Till’s horrific murder.

BOOKS: Is that typical of a book you would read?

HAYGOOD: My reading habits vary. The book I read before that was James McBride’s novel, “Deacon King Kong.” The book before that was Mary Doria Russell’s “Doc,” a novel about Doc Holliday. Before that I read “Razorblade Tears,” a crime novel by SA Cosby. One of my favorite books is Eudora Welty’s collected stories, which are so powerful and so full of smart writing about the American South.

BOOKS: When did you first read that?

HAYGOOD: The year it came out! I bought it in hardback in 1980. I still have it. Shortly after college, I got a job working on a food pantry hotline. I got paid every two weeks, and each time I bought one hardback as a gift to myself.

BOOKS: What else did you buy then that you still have?

HAYGOOD: One of the most important books in my library “Arna Bontemps – Langston Hughes Letters 1925-1967,” edited by Charles H. Nichols. I’m sure it’s one of the first books of its kind, one that proves to the world that two Black writers were making a living solely as writers. That showed me I could become a writer.

BOOKS: Is there any author you wouldn’t read?

HAYGOOD: I’ve never been able to get into Hemingway. I’ve tried and tried. The larger universe seems to be playing some kind of trick on me. I wrote this big article about William Styron when I was at the Washington Post, and one of the first things Styron said to me was, “How come Hemingway got a Nobel and James Baldwin didn’t?” That was music to my ears.

BOOKS: Are there any genres you read more now than you used to?

HAYGOOD: In the past five years I started reading August Wilson’s oeuvre. That’s been a great joy. I’m amazed at how playwrights use so few words to say so much. Sometimes I think maybe my books should be shorter. Then I say, “Nah.”

BOOKS: Have you been on any other reading kicks?

HAYGOOD: I’m on a World War II kick. I’m currently reading “The Third Reich at War” by Richard J. Evans. I’m extremely fascinated by that war because I think we have to understand it to understand the forces trying to erode democracy now.

BOOKS: Are there books you recommend a lot?

HAYGOOD: There are three books that I find myself recommending. When students ask me for recommendations for the summer, I recommend the short story collection “Elbow Room” by the Black author James Alan McPherson. He’s amazing. Another book I recommend is Geoffrey Wolff’s memoir of his con artist father, “The Duke of Deception.” It was one of the books that gave me the courage to write about my hometown and my family. And then the third book is the “Arna Bontemp – Langston Hughes Letters“ because in that book you have two writers who dare to think that someone is interested in what two Black authors have to say. I don’t know how my life would have turned out if I hadn’t walked into that bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, in 1980 and purchased that book.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.

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