My Next Mentor – Bob Collins

I told you about my first mentor – Corky Lamm, the sportswriter of The Indianapolis News. I realize now that he passed me on to my next mentor, Bob Collins, a sportswriter (and later sports editor) of The Star. Corky got me a job on The Star sports desk for the summer after my junior year in college, and Collins was my “boss.” He was a young guy, probably in his late twenties then (1953), but he seemed older to me, already a professional, and a good one. He was a classy writer and a classy guy – sharp, funny, helpful and full of information, not just about sports, but about books, writers, the world.

Collins loaned me novels that summer – What Makes Sammy Run, by Budd Schulberg, about the cut-throat world of Hollywood, A Rabble in Arms, by Kenneth Roberts, about The American Revolution (a British General had called Washington’s army “a rabble in arms, flushed with success and ignorance”) and  The Disenchanted, another one by Schulberg, this one about a burnt-out writer going to Hollywood to make a buck, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald, who Schulberg had met as a young man when he was working for his movie-producer father.

Collins didn’t just loan me the books, he gave me what amounted to a seminar on each one – telling me about the writer, the larger world of the book’s setting, why the book had made an impression on him – all of this fascinating info delivered over beers after work.

To crown my summer on the sports desk, Collins assigned me to cover the championship game of the local Industrial Baseball League. I don’t remember the outcome, but I still remember the game was between The Link-Belt Warriors and The Allison Jets. What I remember most of all was coming back to the office, writing up my notes and handing my story in to Collins. He picked up his black editorial pencil and before reading a word of the story he wrote across the top: by Dan Wakefield.

My first byline.
Bestowed by Bob Collins.

If there was a definition of “mentor,” Collins would fill it. We became friends for life, and one of my great pleasures was hosting him when he came to New York and I was living in The Village and writing for magazines. For once, I could recommend a novel to him, and I gave Collins a copy of John Updike’s newly published Rabbit, Run, a novel I loved about a former high school basketball player trying to deal with adult life. I took Collins to Louis’ Tavern on Sheridan Square and now I could buy him a beer.

When I came back to visit Indy during my years in New York and Boston, I would look up Collins. I remember him taking me to a Sectionals game after they had hacked up our legendary Hoosiers tournament into classes according to size of the student body. The crowd that once packed Butler Fieldhouse to the rafters for any tournament game was now shrunk to about a third of the seats. The cheers echoed like a dirge. We left early and wept in our beer. There was no one better to weep with (or, much more likely) to laugh with, than Bob Collins – mentor, friend, and man for all seasons.

You can win a signed book by me or tickets to the next Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam this October 31, 2018. To enter, tell me about your mentor. Get full details on submissions here. Hurry, the deadline ends October 29, 2018! 

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Emmett Till Is Back To Haunt Us

I was speaking to a class of bright students at a good university last March when I began talking about my experience covering the Emmett Till murder trial in Sumner, Mississippi in 1955. The professor, who was sitting next to me, leaned in and explained “I don’t think they know about that.”

I thought “everyone” knew about that. I thought the murder of the 14-year old Negro boy from Chicago who was tortured and killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman while visiting his grandfather in Mississippi was part of American history, like The Gettysburg address. I wrote in my article on the trial for The Nation magazine (“Justice in Sumner”) that as soon as the trial was over the town returned to its silent, solid life “that is based on cotton and the proposition that a whole race of men was created to pick it.”

In those days we thought that racism was a problem of “The South.” We hadn’t yet awakened to the fact that it was and is an American problem, woven into the fabric of our history.

Now I imagine those students I spoke last March know about the murder, since The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson – or anyway its interview with the witness who admits she lied about the boy flirting with her – has prompted the Justice Department to re-open the case. (The book is out of stock now on Amazon.)

The two murderers who admitted their crime years later for a paid magazine article are now dead, as is almost everyone connected with the case. About five years ago I got a phone call from a man who said “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I have to speak to you because I’m writing a book about The Emmett Till murder trial, and you are the only one who was at the trial who is still alive.”

I was twenty-three at the time I covered the trial.

The caller was Devery S. Anderson, who wrote a comprehensive book on the trial called. Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movementpublished a year ago.

The New York Times reported that the case was re-opened by The Justice Department and the FBI in 2004 with exhumation of Till’s beaten body. Joyce Chiles, The Mississippi prosecutor who presented that case to the Grand Jury got no return of indictments and said recently that any truthful new testimony would not have changed the outcome.

The new attention to the case has resulted in one good thing –making the case known again to a new generation, bringing the brutality before our eyes again to match with the current shootings of blacks by police officers who are never indicted. Everyone in the courtroom that sweltering Friday sixty-three years ago knew what the verdict would be, based on knowing the hearts and minds of the jurors. The essence of the ritual drama we were watching was summed up by John Whitten, the last speaker for the defense, when he announced his faith that “every last Anglo-Saxon one of you men on this jury has the courage to set these men free.”

Evidence was not the point.

It took the Anglo-Saxon Twelve just an hour and seven minutes to set the murderers free. It took that long, one of them said, because they couldn’t figure out how to properly fill out the acquittal form to give the judge.

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Uncle Dan’s Book Nerds Night

Uncle Dan’s Book Nerds meets Sunday, April 15 in the Oxford Room upstairs at the Aristocrat Pub (52nd & College in Indianapolis). 

This one’s bittersweet – while I’m excited about new projects I have coming up, I’ve decided this next Book Nerds will be my last. Come celebrate the conclusion of a great show run.

Thank you, everyone, for your support of this show.

 

Purchase Tickets

Doors open at 5:00. Show is from 6 – 8:00.
Dinner and drink service is available throughout the show.

Uncle Dan is happy to announce his special guest for the Sunday, April 15 edition of Book Nerds:

Lou Harry

Lou Harry, the longtime Arts and Entertainment writer for The Indianapolis Business Journal, was recently laid off because the IBJ is eliminating his position—which means no more steady, critical arts and dining coverage. His last day of regular employment at IBJ was Thursday, March 15. Mr.  Harry will be at “Uncle Dan’s Book Nerds Night” on Sunday, April 15, at The Oxford Room on the second floor of The Aristocrat pub and restaurant from 6-8 pm.

Mr. Harry was the most consistently informed and perceptive reviewer of books, plays, movies, music, and even restaurants in the city. He has written more than fifty books, as well as articles and essays for a wide variety of entertainment and theatrical magazines. He is a member of the board of the American Theatre Critics Association and has had his own plays produced.

It seems an odd and self-defeating decision that “arts and entertainment” is not regarded as a “business.” Don’t people buy books, pay for tickets to movies and theaters, pay for a wide range of courses in all forms of writing at The Indiana Writers Center, and eat at the variety of new and well-regarded restaurants in the city?

Harry was the most reliable and consistent critic in the city’s publications. The only review of the new Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories book was Lou Harry in the IBJ. No other newspaper or magazine bothered to review the new collection by one of Indianapolis’ most well-known and beloved writers.

Uncle Dan's Book Nerds“Uncle Dan’s Book Nerd Night” is for all who enjoy reading and talking about books. This is not a “Book Club” because you don’t have to read a particular book to come and enjoy the talk and camaraderie. On “Book Nerd Night” one Sunday  evening a month from 6-8pm, Uncle Dan Wakefield and one of his writer friends will not only talk about a book they have written, but also about the books that inspired them, their favorite authors, the peaks and pitfalls of being a writer, (which will include answering some of your questions) and all things literary, inspirational, perhaps even revelatory, and most of all (hopefully,) entertaining!

Book Nerd Night will be at upstairs dining room (The Oxford Room) of Aristocrat Pub (52nd and College), on the second floor, private entrance to left (south) of Main Entrance to the restaurant.  Since the bar is in a separate room, college and high school students will be welcome at the event! (They can eat but not drink alcohol of course.)  Check menu of The Aristocrat – everything from burgers to full course dinners of steaks, chicken, fish, and 60 Craft Beers!

PS – We regret that our schedule for these events did not work out with The Red Key. We continue to frequent The Key for food, drink, and fellowship – as well as the best jukebox in the U.S.!  

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield