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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Writing and (or?) Digital Fun

I may be an old-school literary writer and die-hard fan of paper books, but ever since I started my webpage in 1999, I have been enchanted by the empowering and creative possibilities of digital media. 

BLOGGING: I started this blog, Madam Mayo, in 2006, and have kept at it steadily ever since, although the why of it has undergone significant evolution.

[Writers Blogs (And My Blog): Eight Conclusions After 8 Years of Blogging]

PODCASTING: In 2009, I started making podcasts with Apple's GarageBand-- and now host two series, Marfa Mondays and Conversations with Other Writers.

[Listen in to my podcast about how I started podcasting.]

DIGITAL PUBLISHING (KINDLES): Shortly thereafter I wrangled my way through an open-source program called Sigil and made some Kindles

[Here is everything I can tell you about that particular odyssey.]

VIDEO: And I took up making videos with iMovie. Apart from a few book trailers and whatnots, I mainly think of my videos as a souped-up GIFs, that is, visual appetizers, meant to enhance a text. 

My two latest videos are Scenes from the West of the Pecos Rodeo (3 minutes) and of Calera, Texas (1 minute 20 seconds), a Trans-Pecos ghost town that, surprisingly, has a nicely kept nondenominational chapel. Both videos are apropos of my book in-progress about Far West Texas.

IN SUM: HUH? Yes, making these pages, posts, podcasts and videos is more fun than playing with Play-Do. Yes, my blog, podcasts and videos bring me a larger audience and more visibility for my books. And yes, these endeavors steal time from writing. 

Instead of making two videos the other evening, I could have worked on my book. But just when I am about to feel crummy about that, I remind myself: if you're going to use GarageBand and iMovie, it really helps to do small projects on a frequent basis, or else you'll get rusty and lose the ability to do any at all. 

Or is that just a pretzel of an excuse?

On the other hand, I really do believe it's crucial for me as a writer to be able to handle digital media. (I've had it on my to do list for over year to make a proper trailer for my latest book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution and its Spanish edition,  Odisea metafísica hacia la Revolución Mexicana. And I really should put my Marfa Mondays podcasts onto YouTube as well. Oh, and... suffice it to say that it's a long to-do list that's just getting longer there in my fat little FiloFax...)

In sum, after more than two decades at this "business" of being writer, I'm still figuring it out. 

OH, AND SOCIAL MEDIA: At least I got off FaceBook. (It's been a few weeks since I deactivated my account and whew, that is still a palpable relief.) I still haven't made my mind up about Twitter. Most of it strikes me as drivel. But I don't find it as addictive as FaceBook and once, maybe twice a week something blink-worthy does happen in there.* (Follow me @cmmayo1.)

*For instance, I tweeted that I loved the cover of Cluff Hudder's book, so he sent me a copy! Here are my writing assistants with Pretty Enough for You. (Yep, I tweeted that.)

> Your comments are always welcome.

Monday, October 05, 2015

From the Archives of Yore: My Interview with Economist Arnold C. Harberger

Originally published in 2003 in Economía Mexicana [PDF]. Herewith:


By Catherine Mansell-Carstens*

Catherine Mansell-Carstens holds a BA and MA in economics from the University of Chicago. For many years a professor of economics at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, she is the author of Las finanzas internacionales en México and Las finanzas populares en México. Since 1995 she has been an independent consultant. [Note: Mainly what I've really been up to is writing books and this blog as C.M. Mayo.]


One of the world’s authorities on public finance, project evaluation, international economics, and economic development, Arnold C. Harberger is the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics at University of Chicago and currently serves on the faculty of the UCLA Department of Economics.  He has also consulted for corporations, international organizations, and governments as varied as Bolivia, Chile, China, Indian, and Mexico. Among the many now classic works he has published are: “On the Use of Distributional Weights in Social Cost-Benefit Analysis” Journal of Political Economy, 86, no. 2 (April 1978); “Three Basic Postulates for Applied Welfare Economics: An Interpretive Essay” Journal of Economic Literature, 9, no. 3 (September 1971); “The Measurement of Waste (in Principles of Efficiency) American Economic Review, 54, no. 3 (May 1964); and “Using the Resources at Hand More Effectively” American Economic Review 49, no. 2, (May 1959).

On February 14 and 15, 2003, UCLA’s Department of Economics held a special conference, “Fifty Years of Teaching Economics: A Celebration of Arnold Harberger.” It was a celebration indeed, but not for a career entirely past: Professor Harberger — fondly known as “Alito” to his Latin American students— is still going strong.

This interview was originally intended to form part of a collection focusing on the education and role of the economist. Alas, the project was not realized, and this fascinating interview, in which Harberger touches on the “Chicago School”; the role of the economist as diagnostician, as policy practitioner, and forecaster; Harberger’s own education; and his views on the controversial Chilean crisis, has never before been published.

Saturday afternoon, February 19th, 1994 by the swimming pool at the Hotel de los Tesoros,  Alamos, Sonora, after speaking at the "Alamos Alliance" conference that morning.

Catherine Mansell-Carstens: I was going over the speech you gave at the American Economic Association last January, "The Search for Relevance," where you talked about what is it that economists as "policy practitioners" do. Applied welfare economics, projections, diagnostics...

Arnold Harberger: I think that the big problem in the world is diagnosing. That's what we economists know least about, and it's an area where humility more than anything else is called for. It seems to me that we have too many people in the profession who give patent medicine-style solutions. They are very quick to diagnose and then the remedies they have... a few bottles are always just exactly right in their own minds. These people don't really advance the cause of anything very much. And when I see them getting into positions of power and responsibility I shudder. And most of the time it turns out to be correct that I did shudder.

CM: A lot of people who are not familiar, intimately, with the University of Chicago often think of us that way.

AH: Oh, I agree that many people think that way, but on the whole they are wrong. I think there are three main points that define the “Chicago School.” The first is the idea that you cannot approach a super complex reality without a structure with which to think about it. The difference between good theory and bad theory is that with the good theory you can really do things that are helpful, while with bad theory it's like burning witches. It doesn't get at the heart of a problem. You're not really capturing, you're not correctly synthesizing a complex reality.

The second point that defines Chicago people is a great respect for empirical evidence. They prefer theories that are simple and robust— theories that can be juxtaposed to the evidence, and they learn from the interplay between the evidence and the theory.

The third point is a deep and fundamental respect for the workings of markets. Chicago people are not like the Hayekians, for whom market solutions are always best, always beneficent. In contrast, I like to say that markets are tough and cruel, like the winds and the tides. He who tries to fight them has himself one hell of a battle. Our big challenge is to understand market forces, so that we can take advantage of them, rather than find ourselves standing in front of the tidal wave when it appears.

I think, too, that diagnosing is something that many Chicago economists do better than  people of any other stripe. There are other good diagnosticians who didn't come from Chicago, but who has produced a greater mass of diagnosticians than Chicago?

I would give a lot of credit to the Ag Workshop [the workshop in Agricultural Economics] at Chicago. T.W. Schultz was a profound diagnostician for his entire career. From the very beginning, he emphasized that we shouldn’t try to preserve the family farm at whatever cost. Schultz saw that it was inevitable that economic development would take people off the farm and he felt that policy should try to help and lubricate this process, so as to make that transition less painful and more positive. 

In Spain in the sixties the government actually paid whole families to move to Barcelona from backward areas like Extremadura. They paid their rent for about three or four or five months; they gave them subsistence payments; they helped them find a job. By doing this they speeded up a process which the economy was naturally calling for. They were alleviating poverty in Extremadura, and at the same time they were satisfying a need for increased labor in the Barcelona area. This is the kind of thing that if you are alert you will see. Observation plus a correct understanding of the problem will help you to find a sensible solution. Observational diagnostics is one of the big pillars of good policy economics.
CM: Another thing economists do is projections. There's this sort of shamanistic aspect to making projections, and yet it seems not to be a very big part of what many economists actually do.

AH: Very good discipline. Tremendous discipline to work at that.

CM: To do projections.

AH: Yes! Because, you know, if you take them seriously, you look back to see how well you have done and you ask where you made mistakes. You look at what people are actually doing, you get a sense of what an economy is. The basic theorems of economics are purely qualitative and not terribly relevant. You know, demand increases, price goes up, supply increases, price goes down. That kind of thing. To make projections, you need to assess the orders of magnitude of different forces. How important is NAFTA vis-a-vis all the other swirling events that are happening? I say it's going to be a huge event, it is a huge event right now in terms of capital flows. But it's a tiny event in movement of people from Mexico to the United States. Now, I'm sticking my neck out there. At least I think I'm sticking my neck out. I'm not waffling around. No, I really will turn out to be wrong if the flow of people to the United States is cut to a third, just in the natural course of events involved in NAFTA. I say it just can't be. But the way a lot of people talk, they act as if it's the most natural thing. 

So projections involve a sense of proportion which has to do with parameters in a way, but you don't have a complete model. One thinks in terms of reduced forms. This disturbance applied to this system will produce things of roughly this shape and magnitude. And that's where the art of the economist lies. Some of this simply uses common sense, some of it comes from a lot of observational experience, some of it comes from practice. I'm sure there's ability involved. Some people are better filters, and just like the economy is it's own computer, so is the human brain. And some people's brains work right for certain kinds of things and not for others.

Getting a quantitative sense of how an economy is going to react to something has all of these elements in it. But it's certainly something that we ought to pay more attention to in the way we train people. I think it's a shame that the art of making projections is so in the background. Part of the reason, of course, is that not many of us had it in our training.


Thursday, October 01, 2015

Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy by Edward H. Miller

Just posted in the Washington Independent Review of Books:


Right-wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy
by Edward H. Miller

Book Review by C.M. Mayo

In the early 1950s, for most Texas voters, the party of Abraham Lincoln had about as much appeal as Rhode Island barbecue. In the Civil War, Texas, a slave state, had fought for the Confederacy. Reconstruction brought Republican Party-rule, with its emphasis on establishing and protecting rights for freedmen. The backlash from largely ex-Confederate “redeemers” took only a few years to flush the Republicans from power. 

Attacking them as “the black man’s party,” these Democrats called for racial solidarity among whites and for rolling back the rights of African-Americans. For decades to come, Jim Crow Texas, like the rest of the South, was controlled by the so-called “yellow dog Democrats,” Democrats who would vote for their party’s candidate, even if he were a yellow dog. Yet by the 1960s, the Republican Party, now espousing conservatism, came roaring back in the Lone Star State.

What happened? [CONTINUE READING]

Since I'm working on a book about Far West Texas
most of my recent reviews are of books about Texas.

(in case you were wondering)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Occult of Personality: The Interview about Francisco I. Madero, Spiritism, and the Mexican Revolution

I'm ginormously honored to have been interviewed by Greg Kaminsky for his outstanding esoteric podcast, Occult of Personality. From the website:

"With a focus on authenticity, accuracy, and quality, Occult of Personality peers behind the veil to provide recorded interviews with serious esoteric practitioners, scholars, and teachers from all over the world. Established in 2006, the podcast reaches several thousand listeners each month and has been noted for the quality and depth of interviews."

> Listen in to the Occult of Personality interview here.
> More about my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution, here.

P.S. Just a few of the many fascinating interviews at Occult of Personality:

The Life and Work of Henry Steel Olcott (interview with Mitch Horowitz)
William Kiesel of Ouroboros Press
Josephine McCarthy, author of The Exorcist's Handbook
Mitch Horowitz and One Simple Idea
Eastern Thought in the Western Occult World

(My talk for a panel at the American Literary Translators Association Conference,
Milkwaukee, November 15, 2014)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Not a Magical Misfit Book Mobile?

Artist, writer, farmer and animal rescuer Katherine Dunn is about to do something very special, sparklingly original and healing. Think of it as a combination performance art, pet therapy, and bibliotherapy. And yes-- my writing assistants approve-- it includes a handsome pug! 

Check it out her page for this project at Kickstarter. Watch the video (screen shot below) there as well.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Q & A with Karen Benke, Poet, Creativity and Fun Maven, Letter Writing Aficionada, and Author of "Write Back Soon!"

I met poet Karen Benke about 500 years ago while on tour in California for my first book, Sky Over El Nido, and we kept in touch by email, occasionally, and especially when she brought out Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing, which includes a piece by Yours Truly ("People Who Pat Me, I Sometimes Like," by Picadou) All of which is to say, we writers and poets experience community in many ways, from meeting in person, to exchanging emails, commenting on blogs, tweeting, encountering each others' works in an anthology... and now, though it be 2015, let us add ye olde letter writing!

Herewith some Q & A with Karen Benke about her latest book, Write Back Soon! Adventures in Letter Writing. She is also the author of a book of poems, Sister, and Leap Write In! Adventures in Creative Writing to Stretch and Surprise Your One-of-a-Kind Mind. She says she prefers letters delivered to her actual mailbox, but can be reached via her virtual address at

C.M. Mayo: What inspired you to write about letter writing?


Karen Benke: I went through a period of "healing time" after getting divorced, when I didn't really want to talk all that much or see too many people. Including friends. But I longed for connection... and I love my friends and family, and adore knowing what they're up to. One of my closest friends, Lynn, is an amazing letter writer. Over the years, her letters have always arrived at exactly the right time, when I've needed her voice on the page the most. 

Being a low-tech type and — because I'm a writer of books who eventually must sit for hours pushing square plastic keys on my computer — I find the act of writing with a favorite black pen in my hand comforting. Addressing my thoughts to a certain someone is fun and intimate, in a way that is also safe. It's a relaxed pleasure for me to write a note or letter and to then imagine my words being met by a friend. Plus I love seeing the hops and tumbles of friends' writing when I open my mailbox and find an envelope addressed to me. 

So the short answer is the need for connection is what inspired me to create Write Back Soon! Little heart notes sent from a friend is what keep us connected. 

C.M. Mayo: What advice would you give to those who haven't written a letter before, or who haven't written a letter in an age?

Karen Benke: Don't be afraid to write about the mundane, the typical, the every-day happenings in your everyday life. "Hi, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast after walking the dog and am thinking of you. Let's see a movie soon and meet for ice-cream. Sending love on this foggy day... K." 

People love hearing what you're up to, love imagining a future outing. It's okay to write the way you talkthere's no need to reach for formality with your friends and loved ones. It's the act of sitting down to jot a few sentencescomplete thoughts or run-ons... friends don't judge you, that has the power to change us. Make it a fun project to find paper you like the look, smell, feel of. Find just the right stamp. Get that note/letter folded and into the envelope, seal it, and drop it in the big blue box. That's what counts, sending it on its way. Then you get to enjoy the pleasure of imagining it reach your friends hands, eyes, heart. And, well, those who write letters do receive letters!

C.M. Mayo: Are there any collected letters you have found especially inspiring?

Karen Benke: I really love the correspondence between the illustrator Edward Gorey and writer Peter Neumeyer. They collaborated on three children's books from 1968-1969 and through 75 letters, 60 postcards, and 38 illustrated envelopes became close friends. The story of their friendship and correspondence is found in the book Floating Worlds. I'm not much of a drawer, but Edward Gorey inspired me to start sketching odd little figures and fragments of unusual sitingsmy dogs paw prints, and elephant with upturned trunk, even half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich breakfast on my envelopes. 

Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence is also one I'd highly recommend.

C.M. Mayo: Why do you think so many people have such a hard time writing bread-and-butter thank you notes?

Karen Benke: I think sitting down to write a thank you note requires us to slow down long enough to land in the present moment, minus any distractions... and our world is filled with tantalizing distractions. How often are we actually not multi-tasking and remaining in the no where else? I think many people feel it's a burden to write a thank you note, to slow down. Texting makes everything so immediate and instantly gratifying. Though staring into a small screen for too long is anything but intimate for me. I actually find it quite lonely. 

Writing a thank you note is as much a gift for the writer as it is for the receiver. Whenever we get a chance to feel genuine gratitude, and writing a thank you letter offers us this chance, it expands our world. It also makes us happier. Gratitude is the gateway to happiness, after all. 

There's also actual proof that writing by hand slows us down and de-stresses the nervous system. Sign me up for that.

C.M. Mayo: Who is the best letter writer you know?

Karen Benke: Hands down, my friend Lynn Mundell. Her letters have just the right amount of detail to transport me to wherever she is. She's incredibly well read and wickedly funny. She has this looping, easy to read script, and always picks out the card that makes me snort out a laugh. We met in college and Write Back Soon! is dedicated to her. 

>> Your COMMENTS are always welcome. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Edward Swift Interview: The Big Thicket, New York, the Orphic Journey, San Miguel de Allende, the Sierra Gorda, and more

From my Conversations with Other Writers Podcast, a new transcript, from the 2012 interview with artist and writer Edward Swift. 

C.M. Mayo: Edward Swift is one of my very favorite writers. I didn't come across his work until fairly recently, however. We met in Mexico City— I think it was in 2009— at an exhibition of our mutual friend, the Mexican painter Mariló Carral. Because Mariló went on about it, I got myself a copy of Edward's memoir, My Grandfather's Finger. And I have to say, it was such a good read that every time the subject comes up I get ridiculously effusive, and I've recommended it to almost every writer I know, and lots of other people, too, and well— we'll be talking quite a bit about this very unusual memoir in the interview.

Edward is also the author of several novels: Splendora, Principia Martindale, A Place With Promise, The Christopher Park Regulars, Mother of Pearl, Miss Spellbinder's Point of View, and most recently, The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint. I'm going to read to you a little bit from his website,

"Edward Swift made his debut as a novelist in 1978 with Splendora, which the Houston Chronicle praised as one of the year's best comic novels. He has since written five other acclaimed novels, as well as a memoir, My Grandfather's Finger.

Of Splendora, The Washington Post says, "Splendora reads like an exuberant fairy tale about a young man's search for himself." And writing in The New York Times book review, Anne Tyler wrote, "Edward Swift has a particular gift for capturing the continuous low musical murmur of small town gossip. He knows how stories seem to grow on their own, drifting almost unnoticeably toward the mythical."

And of A Place With Promise— which received glowing reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, The Boston Globe, and many others— in the Los Angeles Times Carolyn See (no easy customer, by the way), writes, "A Place With Promise is a dignified, stately, intelligent book, everything a novel should be."


C.M. Mayo: It's the morning of February 22, 2012, and I'm in San Miguel de Allende with Edward Swift, and you might hear some chickens crowing, and children playing, and I don't know what. We have a lot of sounds going on here, and that's just the way it is.

We're in his workshop by his house—
 and I'm going to ask a lot of questions about the house, because it has a great story. So Edward, I am so happy to see you! I am so happy to be here to talk to you! This is really a thrill and an honor.

Edward Swift: Well, it's a thrill for me too. What in the world do you want to talk about?

C.M. Mayo: What in the world do I want to talk about? You have so many books. You have so many books! The one I love the most is My Grandfather's Finger, because it's the first one that I read by you. And you have a new novel, The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint. You have several other novels, Splendora, A Place With Promise, and other books. And you have such an interesting life. But let's talk starting with page three of the essay that you wrote for Gulf Coast.

Edward Swift: What's on page three? I have no idea!

C.M. Mayo: [Laughs] "Come In, Mr. Proust: Remembering Marguerite Young." This is one of the most beautiful essays by a writer about his mentor, about learning to be a writer, that I have ever read.

Edward Swift: Thank you. Marguerite Young was very special to me. I sought her out. I read her book and it spoke to me, and I knew immediately that I had to not only know her, but study with her.

C.M. Mayo: And you studied with her for a long time.

Edward Swift: Four years in class at the New School for Social Research, and outside of the classroom we remained very close for about six years. And I met her for coffee almost every week, sometimes twice a week, down in the Village in New York in a little place called Reichert's, and then later on in a coffee shop called Pennyfeathers. And I was one of Marguerite's children until I was about 35 years old.

C.M. Mayo: So this was in the '70s.

Edward Swift: Yes, the early '70s.

C.M. Mayo: Greenwich Village, New York City.

Edward Swift: Yes.

C.M. Mayo: A very exciting time to be in New York.

Edward Swift: Well, it was the very last of the bohemian period in New York. Bohemian life was still alive in the Village. Now it is not. It is far too expensive now for artists to be able to move into the Village, so it's become very gentrified and full of families, and Wall Streeters, and people with a great deal of money who can afford those old brownstones and old apartment houses that we used to live in that cost nothing.

C.M. Mayo: And now they're several million dollars.

Edward Swift: Now they're several million dollars.

C.M. Mayo: [Laughs] You wrote in this essay that the image of the whale was of supreme importance to her. Quote, "To be swallowed up by the world and regurgitated, reborn with enlightenment, that," she said, "is the way of the artist. Some of you go into the whale but never come out again. Some of you go in and come out, but haven't the slightest idea you've entered another room. You walk through the door without seeing the portal."

You've been an artist for many, many years. You have written book after book after book. Your know, most people want to write a book, and never write it. Or they write it, and then it's such a searing experience they give up. But you have kept at it, and kept at it, and kept at it, and you also make art. You really are an artist, decade after decade. Do you think it's being swallowed up by the whale? 


Monday, September 07, 2015

Pitmaster Israel Campos at Pody's BBQ in Pecos (Marfa Mondays Podcast #19)

For the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project: Exploring Marfa, Texas & Environs in Far West Texas, I have just posted #19, an interview with Israel Campos, the award-winning pitmaster and owner of Pody's BBQ in Pecos.

 Yes, Pecos is an hour and forty minutes' drive from Marfa. Never mind, go there, grab a plate of brisket at Pody's BBQ, and you will ring the bell!

>>Listen in to this podcast anytime<<

>>Read the Transcript<<

(Wondering where to eat in Marfa? I can recommend breakfast at Squeeze Marfa, lunch at The Food Shark, and --if you still have both the room and the clams-- dinner at Cochineal. If there is a good BBQ in Marfa that I have overlooked, I ask your indulgence; I am writing a literary travel memoir, not a guide book. That said, please send me your recommendations, because, like Arnold, I'll be back.)

About the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project

You can find all the Marfa Mondays Podcasts on my webpage here. They are all free; listen in anytime. There are now 19; there will be more until there are 24. These podcasts are apropos of my book in-progress about Far West Texas, that is, the blazingly gorgeous and utterly fascinating Trans-Pecos

Check out the maps of this surprisingly little-known region here. (P.S. there are two typos on the maps... if you can find more and let me know, I shall be eternally grateful.)

Your comments are always welcome. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sonja D. Williams on Writing "Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio, and Freedom"

Those of you following this blog know that I have bouquets of beautiful things to say about Biographers International and their super-crunchy conference, which I attended last June in Washington DC. One of the biographers I was delighted to cross paths with there is Sonja D. Williams, whose biography, Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio, and Freedom has just been published by the University of Illinois Press. Herewith some Q & A.

C.M. MAYO: What inspired you to write this biography? 

SONJA D. WILLIAMS: In fall 1994 I had just started working as a writer/producer for the Smithsonian Institution’s Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was project—a 13-part series exploring the legacy of African Americans in radio.  (The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., housed a unit that produced award-winning radio and television documentaries about the American experience). So starting in January 1996, our weekly half-hour Black Radio programs aired on more than two hundred noncommercial radio stations nationwide. 

Of the five shows on my producing plate, I felt the most trepidation about the one exploring African American contributions during radio’s “theater of the mind” heyday of the 1930s and 1940s. Blacks were rarely featured in local or national dramatic broadcasts then. When I found out about Destination Freedom, I was struck by this radio series’ lyricism, dramatic flair, and fiery rhetoric. African American writer Richard Durham created this series in 1948 and for two years he served as its sole scriptwriter. A master storyteller, Durham seductively conjured aural magic, inventively dramatizing the lives of black history makers.

And Durham used his desire for universal freedom, justice, and equality to inform his storytelling choices.

Richard Durham had died in 1984, so my interviews with his wife, Clarice, actor/singer Oscar Brown Jr., and writer Louis “Studs” Terkel provided salient insights. Durham was an astute, Chicago-based writer who employed poetic, hard-hitting prose to entertain, educate, and promote positive social change. He stood behind his convictions, even when the consequences of his actions caused him emotional pain, financial hardship—or both.

Durham’s accomplishments reinforced my own belief that the media, in all its incarnations, should serve a higher purpose than just mindless diversion.  His life was drama itself, full of unexpected twists and turns, of creative invention and reinvention.  His story certainly fascinated me. So after the Black Radio series ended, I planned to work on Durham’s biography. 

Unfortunately, other documentary projects monopolized my time. I also continued teaching in my academic home, the Howard University Department of Radio, Television, and Film. Appointment to an administrative position in my department eventually forced me to sandwich research for this book into spring or summer breaks and other far-too-fleeting time frames.

Still, a Howard University–sponsored research grant in 2002 enabled me to begin immersing myself in Durham’s world. Later, a 2009 Timuel D. Black Jr. Short-Term Fellowship in African American Studies sponsored by the Vivian G. Harsh Society enabled me to spend a summer in Chicago. I practically moved into the Woodson Regional Library, home base of the Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, where Richard Durham’s papers reside. Finally, a sabbatical from my university during the 2010–11 academic year allowed me to make significant progress toward the completion of this book.

C.M. MAYO: Did Durham's family help and/or cooperate with you? 

SONJA D. WILLIAMS: Durham’s family members were extremely cooperative and supportive.  Durham’s wife, Clarice Davis Durham (now 95), generously allowed me to interview her on numerous occasions, and she provided contact information for several of her husband’s longtime friends and colleagues. She also shared documents she had not donated to the Chicago Public Library’s Harsh Research Collection.  

Mrs. Durham’s brother, Charles A. Davis and sister Marguerite Davis offered touching stories and historical perspectives about their brother-in-law, as did Richard Durham’s older sister Clotilde and younger brothers Caldwell and Earl.  And Mark Durham, Clarice and Richard’s only son, provided a wealth of additional information and contacts.

C.M. MAYO: What were the most unexpected and biggest challenges for you in writing this book? 

SONJA D. WILLIAMS: If someone had told me in the early 2000s that it would take between 10 and 15 years to complete Word Warrior, I would have been convinced that this person had abused some crazy, judgment-clouding substance. The longest documentary project on which I had worked, NPR’s and the Smithsonian’s 26-part series Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions, was about five years in the making, from its conception by artist/historian Bernice Johnson Reagon to airdate. 

But additional documentary, teaching and administration responsibilities, along with other life demands, soon proved that Word Warrior would take a lot longer to become a reality.  And at times I had to overcome serious personal roadblocks. Was I really up to this challenge?  Who told me I could write a book?  Was I fooling myself? 

I got past those doubts, but not without struggle – and time. 

C.M. MAYO: I believe every book has many angels. Who were the angels for this book?

SONJA D. WILLIAMS: So many angels hovered over this project. Durham’s longtime friends, artist Oscar Brown Jr., journalist Vernon Jarrett and writer/radio personality Studs Terkel were generous with their time, recollections and insights.  Historian J. Fred MacDonald, who died earlier this year, was an angel from the start, providing all types of audio and visual materials and regular encouragement.

Vivian Gordon Harsh, an African American woman I never met, served as an earthbound angel during Durham’s lifetime and a heavenly one in mine. During the 1940s, this pioneering head librarian created and curated a special collection of Negro books and historical documents in Chicago’s George Cleveland Hall Public Library.  Durham spent hours there, combing through the research materials Harsh provided for his Destination Freedom and other projects.  Today, the Harsh Collection is the largest African American archive in the Midwest. It also houses Richard Durham’s Papers.   

And of course, my family members and close friends – angels all – divvied up places to stay, reality checks and butt-kicking critiques.

C.M. MAYO: Were you able to listen to all of Durham's "Destination Freedom" radio shows? (Where are they archived?) Did you have some favorites-- and why? 

SONJA D. WILLIAMS: Of the 92 shows in the Destination Freedom series, I listened to all of the tapes that have survived. Northeastern Illinois University historian and author J. Fred MacDonald discovered and rescued those tapes and scripts from Northwestern University years ago and housed them in his own media archives (now located in the Library of Congress).  From his archives, Dr. MacDonald sent me a huge box containing copies of every Destination Freedom script.  I read every word.  I also listened to Destination Freedom tapes in the archives of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Research Center of Black Culture, and in the Richard Durham Papers archived in the Chicago Public Library’s Harsh Research Collection. 

It’s rather hard to pick favorites from such a rich cache of dramatic programs.  Of course, a few stand out for their storytelling strengths and messages:

The Rime of Ancient Dodger examined Jackie Robinson’s integration of baseball, starring Oscar Brown Jr. as Robinson and Studs Terkel as a Brooklyn-accented, rhyming narrator. Denmark Vesey recounted Vesey’s revolutionary militancy and his 1822 slave revolt in South Carolina; Negro Cinderella portrayed artist Lena Horne’s young life and social awakening; Premonition of a Panther demonstrated how his sport’s brutality affected boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson; The Death of Aesop displayed the biting humor and wisdom of an Ethiopian slave famous for his fables; The Long Road explored the contributions of women’s suffrage activist and educator Mary Church Terrell. 

C.M. MAYO: Durham was Muhammed Ali's biographer (The Greatest, 1975). Did you find it challenging to write the biography of a biographer? 
SONJA D. WILLIAMS: In part because Muhammad Ali is such a huge personality and significant cultural figure – and because I was fascinated by his story and his fights during my younger years – Ali threatened to take over the chapter about Durham’s work with him on The Greatest. I had to fight with myself to make sure that Durham remained in focus by using Durham’s interviews with historian J. Fred MacDonald, magazine and newspaper articles where Durham talked about Ali, the tapes Durham personally recorded while following Ali during the writing of The Greatest, and relevant interviews with Durham’s friends, colleagues (including his Random House editor Toni Morrison) and family members.

C.M. MAYO: You've written for radio. Did you find writing a book to be similar or a very different process? 

SONJA D. WILLIAMS: While I never thought that writing a book would be a breeze, the research process felt very familiar.  It required the same primary and secondary research muscles needed for documentary production.  I loved digging for information and finding unexpected gems – like Durham’s letters to and from acclaimed writer Langston Hughes, or learning about Durham’s interaction (along with other labor union leaders) with a young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King had journeyed to Chicago to seek financial support for the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott he was leading. At that point, February 1956, the boycott was in its infancy and struggling to survive.

But writing for the page (or computer screen) is different that writing for the ear, and my early chapter drafts contained clunky chunks of interview segments or script samples. It was as if an unseen narrator (me) briefly set up an audio clip and then let the clip run uninterrupted, taking up a bulk of the page. While I could let audio segments, sound effects, ambient sound and/or music guide listeners in radio storytelling, it was clear that I had to take a more active role as narrator/guide for a book. 

I had to reorient my mind and my writing.  A struggle.

But if I learned anything from past projects, my work on Word Warrior cemented the fact that hard work, persistence, and faith are essential elements for any creative endeavor. 

C.M. MAYO: What's next for you?

SONJA D. WILLIAMS: I plan to return to my first love, music, and explore the lives, musical triumphs and personal struggles of some contemporary musicians. Wish me luck, faith and persistence!