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Washington Post journalist reflects on career

| Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wil Haygood, biographer and journalist for The Washington Post, spoke in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium on Tuesday evening about his work in journalism and about his books, including the award-winning “The Butler: A Witness to History,” which was released concurrently with the critically-acclaimed film of the same name.

20141028, Hesburgh Center, Lecture, Rosie BiehlRosie Biehl | The Observer
Haygood, who is visiting campus as a journalist-in-residence of the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, said he was shocked to find that no one had told the story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who served eight presidents, before he did. Haygood said he knew he had to retell the life story of such an interesting man.

“I asked Allen if anyone had ever written a story about him. He looked me and said, ‘If you think I’m worthy I believe you’d be the first.’ It hurt me deeply that he didn’t consider his own life worthy of retelling,” Haygood said. “I had no idea how much the story would resonate with readers, but I knew I had a story that would excite me. I knew it was a story that I wanted to write.”

Haygood described his intense desire to write as a reporter and the obstacles he faced just getting his foot in the door.

“I didn’t have enough experience when I started out to be a full-time reporter so I decided to take a test to be a copy editor and I was hired,” Haygood said. “I was at that position for a year and a half, but I fiercely wanted to write.

“So on my days off I used to go around town and talk to people and find stories. So after that time I had over 100 unpaid stories published in order to have some clips to send to other editors.”

Haygood said he saw his writing career as a natural progression from his career has a journalist and that the two work together to help him in both pursuits.

“A lot of the authors that I had admired had their roots in newspapers,” he said. “I was used to writing 3,000 word articles, and about 45 of those would be about the length of a book. I knew that if I wanted to write books that I would have the skills and the training.

“I wanted to have my journalism lead to something else, and books just started calling me and grabbing my interest.”

Haygood said for him, writing has always been about telling good stories and getting them to people in a medium that is unlike any other.

“I think I’ve always wanted to write, to bring a picture to the page without a picture,” he said. “The best novels can make you see and visualize a whole world without any pictures. That’s what I want to do with my writing.”

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