Interview with “The Butler” author, Wil Haygood

I9780307957191 recently interviewed journalist/historian Wil Haygood in anticipation of his visit to the Atlanta History Center. He is best known for writing The Butler, and he has recently written a biography about Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first African American Supreme Court justice. Haygood was inspired to write about Marshall, because Marshall won Brown v. Board in 1954– the same year Haygood was born, and he considers Marshall to be the most influential figure from his birth year. Here’s a tidbit from our chat:

ArtsATL: You have written biographies about Sammy Davis, Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and, most famously, the White House butler Eugene Allen. What inspired you to write a book about Marshall?

 Wil Haygood: Lawyers spend a lot of time in their offices, but Marshall spent a lot of time out in the field, in the South, way before the 1965 Civil Rights Act. He had faith in the ultimate moral muscle of this country, even while drinking out of separate water fountains and staying at segregated hotels. His faith never dimmed. That’s very powerful. When he won the school case in 1954, there was a wave of resentment, and many of those schools stayed all white. And he went back and filed more lawsuits against school districts. He stayed the course.

Read the full interview here:

Reflections after attending the National Critics Institute

I spent the past two weeks at the O’Neill Theatre Center in New London, Conn. at the National Critics Institute— the only writing workshop for early and mid-career theatre critics. In a cottage in New England I pondered about the state of theatre, the state of journalism, writing about people of color, how to incorporate dining content into theatre journalism, and how to find my voice. The latter was my greatest revelation– the disconnection between the way I speak and the way that I write hinders my ability to develop my voice as a writer. This voice is critical to me making this a career, so I better invest a good chunk of my time into finding it.

I left with a sense of clarity and action items. I am going to meet with my mentor, put together a pitch for an arts column, and use the friends I have with telecommunications degrees to help me put together an interview reel, so that I can pitch myself to cover the arts in broadcast news outlets.

Here are some gems from the Institute:

“Theater is about getting under the skin of different types of people.” -Linda Winer, Theater Critic, Newsday

“Be good to yourself as a critic when you watch a show. Be in a place that is fair to the work and to your ability to respond to the work.” -Matt Wolf, Theatre Critic, The Guardian and The Times London

If you’re doing something worthwhile, isn’t it worthy of analysis? If you’re not supporting criticism, what are you saying about your art form?” -Robert Simonson, Cocktail Writer, New York Times

“Competition is good, but if it flatlines, then no one knows what’s going on. Criticism is good, because it makes you better.” -Ann Nyberg, WTNH, ABC Affiliate, Connecticut

“Travel widely. Explore lots. Read lots. Eat lots.” -Sam Sifton, Deputy Food Editor, New York Times

“Appetizers are the off-Broadway of the food world” -Chris Jones, Theater Critic, The Chicago Tribune

“I didn’t get into this business to kill art; I got into this business to create art.” -David Stone, Producer, Wicked, If/Then, Next to Normal

“I don’t buy the idea that a good, solid play that does not wow the New York critics will not have a life a life after that.” -Dan Sullivan, retired theater critic, LA Times

“Theater that is not written about well is not going to make people want to go.” -Charles Isherwood, Theater Critic, New York Times

“Broadway is mostly singing animals and movie stars.” -Charles Isherwood

“Make yourself an interesting autobiography.” -Linda Winer

Race Reads

    • Millennials are less tolerant than you think “The fact of the matter is that millennials who are white — that is, members of the group that has always had the most regressive racial beliefs, and who will constitute a majority of U.S. voters for at least another couple of decades — are, on key questions involving race, no more open-minded than their parents. The only real difference, in fact, is that they think they are.”


“Even though arts leaders and arts journalists don’t always work in tandem, their goals are usually the same: to raise awareness of work that reflects our society”

“There’s been a gradual erosion of local news reporting—not just in the arts, but in all areas—as media outlets have cut back on their reporting staffs,” he says. “This doesn’t mean that people aren’t interested in their communities. It just shows that the economics of the digital age make it harder for local outlets to compete against national and international ones in garnering audiences and ad dollars. Arts leaders can’t rely on third parties anymore to tell their stories.”

I’m a black ARTS journalist. I’m not a myth.

“I’m tired of jockeying for position in a profession that never hesitates to finger “racists” in public, but can’t see the very real racism in its own newsrooms.”

As I was scrolling through my Facbook news feed I noticed one of my friends posted a link to an article whose headline pierced me like the tusks of an ox: I’m A Black Journalist. I’m Quitting Because I’m Tired of Newsroom Racism,” written by Rebecca Carroll.

The photo that ran with the article is a promotional image from Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. There are no black people at the fictional ACN network either. And all the women on staff are irrational workaholics who can’t maintain a healthy relationship with anyone and speak in falsetto all the time…but I digress…

I went to J-School twice–undergrad and grad–and have been a freelance journalist for three years. My beat is the arts, I write in print and online, and in my three post grad school years in the field I have not met a single other black print journalist. All of my editors have been middle aged white men and women. I personally know of one other black woman arts journalist and her name is Valerie Boyd, and she was my magazine writing professor in college.

What I have encountered over the past three years is A LOT of middle-aged white men who claim that they are too liberal to have any ethnic blind spots as it relates to reviewing and criticizing art. I have also encountered people who are surprised, and dare I say intimidated, by the fact that I can write in the first place. I graduated from two of the best journalism schools in the country, and when white people find out they look at me as if I am a Siren or cyclops or unicorn or big foot. I am none of the above.

As a matter of fact when I went to a theater conference last summer, the director of a black theater company in Texas said to me “Whoa! You’re the only one!” He might be right.

Currently I freelance for various arts publications and sites when I can, and work full-time at a magazine. However, I am not on the editorial staff, and there is only one person of color on the editorial staff. Why am I not on the editorial staff you may ask? Well, you try finding a full-time writing or editing job at a magazine and let me know how that goes. But, I do have a foot in the door and the ear of the publisher, and that’s a start.

This is why it disheartens me that Rebecca Carroll is leaving the newsroom. There is no Lean In with a “How to deal with racism and sexism at the same time” addendum for black women, but Sheryl Sandberg’s principles still apply: Every woman who throws in the towel makes it harder for the next one to get in the door. Ms. Carroll has paid her dues in this industry, so she will continue to be able to work, but what about the people just getting started?

I am by no means blaming her. After doing something for so long, you deserve not to have to deal with bullshit. Suffering for the art is cute and idealistic when you’re 20 and infuriating by the time you’re 40. I just wish things were different.

Read her article here:

Critics elevate the taste

“Art and culture also have a serious economic impact on this city. According to the most recent Otis Report on the Creative Economy, one in eight regional jobs in L.A. and Orange County are generated by the creative industry, which has a total economic output of over $230 billion annually.”

The LA Times recently laid of its arts and architecture critic Jori Finkel. In response, area art museums signed a letter asking the paper to re-instate her position, because her coverage is critical to the life of their organizations. I am so happy that the museums stood behind Finkel, and I hope the LA Times, and other newspapers will reconsider future decisions like this one. Critics are so important because they make people aware of what’s happening in their communities, provide context to arts events, expose audiences to new artists and art forms, and most importantly they elevate the taste level.

In our social media driven world, everyone is a critic, but everyone is not a good critic. Criticism, especially arts criticism, is a muscle that is strengthened by exposure to more and more art. The more you are exposed to, the more your taste evolves. The more your taste evolves the higher your standards get. What social media allows people to do is critique the art they choose to consume in a thumbs up/thumbs down sort of way. Arts critics have to cover everything, whether it fits their aesthetics or not. Arts critics have the strongest muscles. I hope the LA Times reconsiders this decision. I’ll be following this story.

Read the full article here.