Hendrickson, Paul 1944-

views updated


PERSONAL: Born April 29, 1944, in Fresno, CA; son of Joseph Paul (an airline pilot) and Rita Bernice (Kyne) Hendrickson; married Sunday Barbagallo, September 13, 1969 (divorced, February, 1974); married Cecilia Regina Moffatt (a nurse educator), March 10, 1979; children: Matthew, John. Education: St. Louis University, A.B., 1967; Pennsylvania State University, M.A., 1968.

ADDRESSES: Home—30 Colfax Rd., Havertown, PA 19083. OfficeUniversity of Pennsylvania, English Department, 3600 Market St., Room 502, Philadelphia, PA 19104-2653. Agent—Kathy Robbins, 405 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer, journalist, and educator. WPSX-TV, University Park, PA, writer, producer, and publicist, 1969–71; Holiday, Indianapolis, IN, reporter, 1971–72; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, reporter, 1972–74; National Observer, Washington, DC, reporter, 1974–77; Washington Post, Washington, DC, reporter, 1977–2001. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, senior lecturer, 1998–.

MEMBER: Newspaper Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS: Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow, 1979–80; writing award, Playboy, 1982, for best nonfiction; Lyndhurst fellow, 1985–87; Guggenheim fellow, 1999; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 2002; Heartland Prize for nonfiction, Chicago Tribune, and National Book Critics Circle Award, both 2003, both for Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy; National Book Award finalist, for The Living and the Dead; National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, for Looking for the Light.


Seminary: A Search, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1983.

Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.

The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939–43, H.N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to magazines.

SIDELIGHTS: Paul Hendrickson is a journalist who has been described by Barry Bearak in the Los Angeles Times Book Review as "one of the best stylists in American newspapering." Hendrickson's books put his stylistic talents to a variety of uses: he tackles autobiography in Seminary: A Search, the life and works of a Depression-era photojournalist in Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott, and the legacy of Vietnam in The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War. In the New Republic, Robert Coles observed that Hendrickson's primary interest "is in conveying the complex texture of everyday human experience—and he does so exceedingly well."

At the age of fourteen, Hendrickson left home to attend a Catholic seminary in Alabama, intending to become a priest. While his life plans changed in his twenties, he never forgot the seminary as a formative experience of his youth. Seminary traces not only his years in the isolated school but also his mid-life attempts to locate his former classmates, only one of whom was a priest. "Mr. Hendrickson offers us an impressive piece of social history in re-creating the atmosphere of the solidly Catholic neighborhood of his boyhood … and the atmosphere of the seminary in Alabama," noted Eugene Kennedy in the New York Times Book Review. "A reader quickly gets to like this man who is still trying to make sense of the mixture of experiences, some inspiring, others confounding, that characterized his life in the seminary and the close and affectionate bonds he has maintained with his former classmates."

In a Commonweal review, Jack Miles wrote of Seminary: "Most works in the broad genre of Catholic memoir are either confession or diatribe. In either case, the reader feels that whatever search took place, it was over before the writing began. Hendrickson's search, by contrast, is still under way, and his book races on with the excitement and the pain of it." Coles cited the work for its "strong, disciplined journalism," concluding that "grace can be found in a book: a gifted writer's look backward at a given time and place, his look around at what we Americans seem to be about, his look inward at a soul's reasons, a soul's trials and turns, sub specie aeternitatis."

Hendrickson's second book, Looking for the Light, presents new reportorial challenges. The book charts the career of Marion Post Wolcott, a photographer hired by the Farm Security Administration to document the New Deal's progress in rural America during the late Depression years. She traveled alone through Appalachia and the deep South, making a photographic record of coal miners, migrant workers, and others affected by the Depression. Her career became obscured when she quit in 1942 to marry Leon Wolcott, a businessman in the Agency for International Development. "In Looking for the Light, Paul Hendrickson … gives a concerned and highly personal account of the hidden life and underexposed art of Post Wolcott," observed Duncan McDonald in the Chicago Tribune Books. "Indeed, the unraveling of her mystery—the lack of attention paid to her work, compounded by her apparently self-imposed exit from the world of photography—is the focal point of Hendrickson's inquiry." McDonald went on to declare Hendrickson's biography "easily the most compelling" of any written on Post Wolcott, stating further that Looking for the Light "is both a well-deserved tribute to Marion Post Wolcott and an example of the dedicated, artful reportage of Paul Hendrickson. It is clear that this project was an important quest for him—and a remarkably successful one."

Even while he composed the Post Wolcott biography, Hendrickson was already at work on his 1996 title, The Living and the Dead. The project began for him in the mid-1980s, when he interviewed former defense secretary Robert McNamara for the Washington Post, and it continued for about a decade with more than five hundred other subjects interviewed on the Vietnam War and its experience. The Living and the Dead offers a biography of McNamara that shows how his formative years influenced him as he achieved political power. The book also charts McNamara's decisions in incrementally expanding the war in Southeast Asia, suggesting that the cabinet member submerged his own deep doubts about any chance of an American victory. New York Times Book Review contributor Nicholas Proffitt noted that Hendrickson "has produced a work that approaches Shakespearean tragedy, or, as the author himself suggests, a biblical fury. It's a story about moral courage and cowardice, about being true to one's core beliefs, about what happens to a man who turns himself inside out."

A Kirkus Reviews critic called The Living and the Dead "the book about the life and times of the former secretary of defense … a superb overview of the war in Vietnam." The reviewer went on to note, "Exuberant and compulsively readable, Hendrickson's work easily stands with the very best literary nonfiction on the Vietnam war." In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Bearak wrote, "Cutting and yet compassionate [the book] is one of those rare works that combine the excavations of a historian with the insights of a poet. The prose races by effortlessly until it stops the reader in thought." And Washington Post Book World reviewer James G. Hershberg deemed The Living and the Dead "a deeply informed, insightful, profoundly ambivalent yet ultimately piercing character study, one that does much to elucidate and expose its aloof and endlessly contradictory central figure."

In 1995 Hendrickson encountered a stark black-and-white photograph that riveted his attention. In the photo, seven Mississippi lawmen are seen standing in a congenial group, smoking and talking. In the middle of the group, cigarette clenched between his teeth in a mock-grimace, half-smile, a man swings a sturdy-looking riot club, as though demonstrating proper technique, or practicing against an unseen target. Hendrickson discovered that when they were photographed, these upholders of the law were not on hand to keep the peace. Instead, they were present at the cusp of racial violence and segregationist hatred as James Meredith became the first African American student at the University of Mississippi in 1962. The photograph, which originally appeared in Life, inspired Hendrickson to search out the men depicted in it, and their descendants, to explore the racial hatred present in the early 1960s and whether, or how, it had been passed on to the next generation. The result of his investigation was published in Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy. Two of the sheriffs were still alive when Hendrickson started his research—all have since died—and he located them to get their perspective on the civil rights era and the state of the world since 1962. He also speaks to their sons, many of whom carried on the tradition of law enforcement, but who remained mindful of the racial burden carried by their ancestors.

Hendrickson also provides a portrait of Meredith, now aged and ill, whose notoriety as a pioneer of integration contrasted sharply with many aspects of his life. Meredith worked as an aide for conservative Senator Jesse Helms and later quit, declaring Helms to be too liberal; he also supported the campaign of notorious former Klansman David Duke and denounced the civil rights movement. Ironically, Meredith's son, Joe, received his Ph.D. at the University of Mississippi in 2002, and the university's officials did not even recognize who he was until shortly before his graduation. "This is an important book," commented Ama Mazama in the African American Review, "written by an outstanding author, who has taken the time to give us a painstakingly clear and full account of the Sons of Mississippi." Los Angeles Times reviewer Karl Fleming called Sons of Mississippi a "meticulously researched, exquisitely written, and piercingly poignant book—the best I have ever read about that period and that place." It is an "amazing book, which is characterized by historical scope, sociocultural depth, journalistic integrity, and an astonishing ability to reveal universal truths via very particular people and events," observed Martin Brady in a Bookpage Web site interview with Hendrickson. A Publishers Weekly contributor declared it a "powerful, unsettling, and beautifully told account of Mississippi's still painful past." And reviewer Lovett H. Weems, writing in Christian Century, concluded that "Hendrickson reminds us that while there has been no total redemption, there are glimmers of hope for the sons and daughters of Mississippi."

Hendrickson once told CA: "On my best days as a writer, I like to think that what I do is the tiniest bit priestly. After seven years of seminary schooling at Holy Trinity in Alabama and Monroe, Virginia, I wrote a book about my Catholic seminary experience, and many people have asked if I'm still a Catholic. The answer is: of course; only it's more complicated than that. Catholicism, at least as a culture, doesn't really go away. I don't lsquo;practice' regularly, but I'm Catholic.

"I still don't know all the reasons why I left the seminary, although I think it had to do with killing off something you love so that one day you might love it again properly. It also had to do, I suppose, with wanting to get laid, although that was a lesser reason than a secular world wants to believe. But in a sense none of that is important. What is important is knowing what I got out of the seminary experience, knowing what kind of human being it helped fashion me into. What I think I got out of the seminary was a moral framework upon which to build the rest of a life. There was far too much protection; we were far too isolated. But there were joys in that ghetto. There were deep mysteries. There were camaraderies and values of a transcendent nature that I doubt a 'value-free,' self-oriented, Rolfed, EST-ed society would ever understand. If we are a record of those we have loved and those who have loved us, then I think I am a lucky man indeed."



African American Review, winter, 2003, Ama Mazama, review of Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy, p. 662.

America, April 30, 1983, Paul Stark, review of Seminary: A Search, p. 346.

Booklist, February 15, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 1038.

Christian Century, November 16, 2004, Lovett H. Weems, review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 43.

Christian Science Monitor, July 17, 1992, R. Norman Matheny, review of Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott, p. 13.

Commonweal, May 20, 1983, Jack Miles, review of Seminary, pp. 314-15; November 8, 1996, James J. Uebbing, review of The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War, p. 28.

Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 2003, "Prodigal 'Sons'; A 1962 Photo of Racist Mississippi Sheriffs Becomes the Focus of Paul Hendrickson's Absorbing but Imperfect Book," review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 70.

Historian, winter, 1999, Terry Anderson, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 418.

Journal of American Culture, fall, 1998, Oscar Patterson III, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 110.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1996, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 947; January 1, 2003, review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 39.

Kliatt, March, 2004, Nola Theiss, review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 38.

Library Journal, February 15, 2003, Stephen H. Hupp, review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 150.

Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2003, Karl Fleming, "Tracking the Hate in a 1962 Photo," review of Sons of Mississippi, p. R7.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 8, 1996, Barry Bearak, review of The Living and the Dead, pp. 1, 9.

New Republic, April 25, 1983, Robert Coles, review of Seminary, pp. 34-37.

New York Times, June 10, 1992, Herbert Mitgang, review of Looking for the Light, p. C18; September 6, 1996, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Living and the Dead, p. C27; March 13, 2003, Janet Maslin, "Faces of Fear and Hate, Caught in a Photograph," review of Sons of Mississippi, p. E10.

New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1983, Eugene Kennedy, review of Seminary, p. 12; July 12, 1992, Rosemary Ranck, review of Looking for the Light, p. 18; September 29, 1996, Nicholas Proffitt, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 8.

People, April 21, 2003, Neil Graves, review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 45.

Publishers Weekly, February 10, 2003, review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 174; February 10, 2003, Michael Scharf, "Jim Crow Alive and Well?," interview with Paul Hendrickson, p. 174; May 17, 2004, review of Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939–43, p. 48.

Time, September 23, 1996, R. Z. Sheppard, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 74.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL) June 14, 1992, review of Looking for the Light, p. 3.

Washington Monthly, April, 2003, Wen Stephenson, "Rising Sons," review of Sons of Mississippi, p. 58.

Washington Post Book World, September 15, 1996, James G. Hershberg, review of The Living and the Dead, p. 1.


BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (April 2, 2003), Martin Brady, "Photograph Captures a Terrible Southern Truth," interview with Paul Hendrickson.

Park Lane Press Web Site, http://www.parklanepress.com/ (September 17, 2005), biography of Paul Hendrickson.

About this article

Hendrickson, Paul 1944-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article