08.01.10: Alex Heard - The Eyes of Willie McGee

Outside magazine editor Alex Hearddiscusses & signs his new book TheEyes of Willie McGee, the true story of an iconic criminal case thatlaunched the civil rights movement and became the basis for Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.   In Mississippi in 1945, the trial of a black man sentenced to deathfor raping a white woman garnered international protests—he was championed bythe Communist Party and defended by a young lawyer named Bella Abzug, whileluminaries from William Faulkner to Albert Einstein spoke out for him—but SantaFe journalist Alex Heard finds the saga rife with enigmas. The case againstMcGee, hinging on a possibly coerced confession, was weak and the legalproceedings marred by racial bias and intimidation. (During one of his trials,his lawyers fled for their lives without delivering summations.) But Heardcontends that McGee’s story—that he and the victim, Willette Hawkins, werehaving an affair—is equally shaky. The author’s extensive research delves intothe documentation of the case, the public debate surrounding it, and therecollections of McGee and Hawkins’s family members. Although there is no wayto discover what really happened, Heard’s book is an in-depth investigationthat explores facets of the case most accounts neglect.  As Heard said in an interview with Santa Fean Magazine, “Anytime youresearch something on your own, you find all this information that’s left out.” Alex Heard is editorial director of Outside magazine in Santa Fe, and has workedas an editor or writer with publications including Wired, The New York TimesMagazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Spy, Slate, and The New Republic.  He has also written one previous book: ApocalypsePretty Soon, a nonfiction look at millennial and utopian subcultures. “The case of Willie McGee is an enduring mystery, but there’s nodoubt he was the victim of a primitive and unfair judicial system. Alex Heard’sexcellent account of his life and death is tragic, sad, and very compelling.”—John Grisham, author of The Innocent Man “Alex Heard has peeled back the tarp on the American South tenlong years before Rosa Parks boarded the bus. Willie McGee was and remains apowerful symbol of corruption and racism, but he is far more than that. He’sthe epicenter of an addictive mystery that draws you in even as it repels you.The story, as Heard masterfully tells it, belies our easy assumptions—aboutrace, human nature, and the notion of justice. This is an extraordinary book.”—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars

Event date: 
Sunday, August 1, 2010 - 3:00pm
Event address: 
4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW Flying Star Pla
87107-3157 Albuquerque