Acclaimed author and journalist Wil Haygood and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clarence Page will participate in a special discussion Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Victoria Theatre in conjunction with the 2022 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
Haygood, a Miami University graduate and Miami University Boadway Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, is this year’s recipient of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, which will be presented at a gala Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Schuster Center.
On Saturday the Columbus native will be interviewed by Dayton native Page, who grew up in Middletown, in a dialogue expected to include topical reflections on his illustrious career and varied works, which include “The Butler” (2013), “In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.” (2003), the 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize nonfiction finalist “Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, And a Magical Season of Healing” (2018), and “Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World” (2021).
“I am drawn to stories where there are footprints, handprints or heartbeats on opposite sides of the battle,” explained Haygood, 68. “America is a land that is not at peace. After 240-plus years of being a nation, we are not at peace. We had an assault upon the U.S. Capitol and some of that happened, I fervently believe, because a significant number of people in this country do not know there were Black people that died for the right to vote. It was an assault upon liberty and freedom.”
In addition to being a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Haygood’s accomplished career spans The Washington Post, Boston Globe and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He fondly recalls meeting author James Baldwin while on assignment for the Globe at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“He told me, ‘You must go the way your blood beats,’ and I have those words on my writing wall today,” said Haygood. “When he told me that I knew in my heart and soul I was going to do everything I could to write books someday. I just knew I was going to grab a hold of stories that had meaning and drama and hone the kind of skills and dedication it takes to write books. In the fact that my work has come to the attention of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, I can’t help but think that James Baldwin would be very proud of this moment as I am.”
“When you take a look at the scope of work Haygood has done, he has gently prodded us into understanding some of the darkest aspects of our society,” said Sharon Rab, founder and chair of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation. “What makes him so powerful is his (ability) to take on the most desperate situations in the Black experience and present it to the reader without animosity.”
‘Ohioans are a tenacious bunch’
Page, a syndicated columnist and editorial board member of the Chicago Tribune, happily traces his journalism roots back to Middletown High School, particularly writing for the school newspaper.
“The paper came out every two weeks and was the best experience a young fella could have due to writing for an audience constantly,” said Page, 75. “I was also encouraged to pursue journalism by Mary Kindell, my English teacher, who started a journalism club.”
He also valued the training he received when interning at the Journal Herald in the summer of 1968 while a junior at Ohio University.
“It was another great experience,” he recalled. “I remember being asked to cover city hall and having (access) to the mayor and city manager. I also learned how to prepare questions, the basics that have served me so well ever since.”
During the span of his career, which encompasses serving as a contributor to “The McLaughlin Group” and “The PBS NewsHour” among other programs, he notably interviewed Ambassador Holbrooke, a negotiator of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. He is pleased to have been invited to return home to take part in the festivities honoring the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and Haygood.
“Richard Holbrooke was a great diplomat and the Dayton Peace Accords made everyone look at Dayton with new eyes,” he said. “And I was very impressed with Wil Haygood before I even met him. ‘The Butler’ was so impressive. There’s so much we need to pay attention to about African American history and American history. Dayton has been through economic hard times in recent years but it still has so much to offer. Ohioans are a tenacious bunch.”
A self-described political and history junkie, Page is also reminded of how vital the written word is as dysfunction and upheaval threaten societal norms.
“We’re in a time right now in which history is happening all around us but we also have (some) who are rewriting the rules, so there’s a tremendous amount of anxiety and trauma in the public,” he said. “The most important job for columnists and editorial writers is to try and make sense out of this crazy world. Who would imagine we would be talking about a second Civil War? Who would imagine people raiding the U.S. Capitol and interrupting the peaceful transition of power? A lot of people are in shock right now and there’s some pretty serious work that needs to be done as far as the next election is concerned.”
‘A really insightful experience’
The Dayton Literary Peace Prize honors writers whose work uses the power of literature to foster peace, social justice and global understanding.
Launched in 2006, it is recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious literary honors and is the only international literary peace prize awarded in the United States. Inspired by the Dayton Peace Accords, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize awards a $10,000 cash prize each year to one fiction and one nonfiction author whose work advances peace as a solution to conflict and leads readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view.
In a historic first, Black writers take top honors this year as the recipients of the fiction and nonfiction prizes as well as the Holbrooke Award. The fiction winner is Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois”) and the nonfiction winner is Clint Smith (“How the Word is Passed”).
“We are so happy they are going to be sharing their voices at a time when we need to hear them so desperately,” said Rab.
Before Haygood and Page take the stage, a panel consisting of this year’s winners, finalists and presenters will be moderated by Gilbert King, Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist and Pulitzer Prize winner for “Devil in the Grove.”
Credit: Sydney A. Foster
Credit: Sydney A. Foster
“We have Pulitzer Prize winners, Oprah’s Book Club picks – it’s an amazing array,” said Rab. “We call it ‘A Conversation with the Authors’ which is what we hope it truly is. We will also have two songs performed by the newly established Dayton Literary Peace Prize Chorus under the direction of William Henry Caldwell. This event has grown in reputation among writers and has put Dayton on the literary map.”
Credit: Photo: courtesy of YWCA Dayton
Credit: Photo: courtesy of YWCA Dayton
Rab also looks forward to the community hearing Haygood and Page’s perspectives.
“These two journalists from Ohio have risen to great heights and there’s a lot we can learn from their interaction because they are bringing us a national view of the Black experience,” she said. “It’s going to be a rich opportunity, a really insightful experience, for all of us.”
HOW TO GO
What: “Dayton Literary Peace Prize: A Conversation with the Authors”
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: Call 937-228-3630 or visit daytonlive.org
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