Wicker, Tom 1926–
Wicker, Tom 1926–
(Paul Connolly, Thomas Grey Wicker)
Born June 18, 1926, in Hamlet, NC; son of Delancey David and Esta Wicker; married Neva Jewett McLean, August 20, 1949 (divorced, 1973); married Pamela Abel Hill, March 9, 1974; children: Cameron McLean, Thomas Grey, Christopher (stepson). Education: University of North Carolina, A.B., 1948.
Office—169 E. 80th St., New York, NY 10021; Box 361, Rochester, VT 05767.
Journalist. Southern Pines Chamber of Commerce, Southern Pines, NC, executive director, 1948-49; Sandhill Citizen, Aberdeen, NC, editor, 1949; Robesonian, Lumberton, NC, managing editor, 1949-50; North Carolina Board of Public Welfare, Raleigh, public information director, 1950-51; Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, NC, copy editor, 1951-52, sports editor, 1954-55, Sunday feature editor, 1955-56, Washington correspondent, 1957, editorial writer and city hall correspondent, 1958-59; Nashville Tennesseean, Nashville, TN, associate editor, 1959-60; New York Times, New York, NY, staff member of Washington, DC, bureau, 1960-64, chief of Washington bureau, 1964-68, associate editor and political columnist in New York office, 1968-91, author of nationally syndicated political column "In the Nation," 1966-91. Also served as the James K. Batten Visiting Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College, visiting scholar of the First Amendment Center, Nashville, TN, 1998, and visiting professor of journalism at Middle Tennessee State University, 1999, and University of Southern California, 1999. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1952-54; became lieutenant (junior grade).
Society of Nieman Fellows, Century Association, Society of American Historians, Writers Guild of America, East.
Nieman fellow, Harvard University, 1957-58; Edgar Allan Poe Award in fact crime category, 1976, for A Time to Die; North Carolina Award in Literature, 1981; John Peter Lengen Award for Freedom of the Press, University of Arizona, 1984; fellow, Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard University, 1993; honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities, including University of North Carolina, Hofstra University, University of Vermont, Pembroke State University, Duke University, Dickinson College, Rutgers University, Michigan State University, Notre Dame University, University of Kentucky, and New York Law School.
The Kingpin, Sloane (New York, NY), 1953.
The Devil Must, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.
The Judgment, Morrow (New York, NY), 1961.
Facing the Lions, Viking (New York, NY), 1973.
Unto This Hour, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Donovan's Wife, Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
Easter Lilly: A Novel of the South Today, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
Kennedy without Tears, the Man beneath the Myth, illustrated by Bill Berry, Morrow (New York, NY), 1964.
JFK and LBJ: The Influence of Personality upon Politics, Morrow (New York, NY), 1968, with a new preface by the author, I.R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1991.
(Author of introduction) U.S. Kerner Commission Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Dutton (New York, NY), 1968.
(Author of observation) White House Enemies: Or How We Made the Dean's List, Signet Books (New York, NY), 1973.
A Time to Die, Quadrangle (New York, NY), 1975, republished with a new preface and afterword by the author as A Time to Die: The Attica Prison Revolt, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1994.
On Press, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.
One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream, Random House (New York, NY), 1991.
Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Wallace Westfeldt) Indictment: The News Media and the Criminal Justice System, First Amendment Center (Nashville, TN), 1998.
The Nixon Years, 1969-1974: White House to Watergate, photographs by Fred J. Maroon, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (part of the "American Presidents" series), Times Books (New York, NY), 2002.
On the Record: An Insider's Guide to Journalism, Bedford/St. Martin's (Boston, MA), 2002.
(Author of introduction) Robert B. Semple, Jr., editor, Four Days in November: The Original Coverage of the John F. Kennedy Assassination by the Staff of the New York Times, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
George Herbert Walker Bush, Lipper/Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.
NOVELS; AS PAUL CONNOLLY
Get out of Town, Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1951.
Tears Are for Angels, Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1952.
So Fair, So Evil, Gold Medal (New York, NY), 1955.
Also the author of a screenplay version of William Faulkner's novel Intruder in the Dust. Contributor to the books Social Justice and the Problems of the Twentieth Century, with Sidney Hook and C. Vann Woodward, Raleigh, NC, 1968, and Character above All: Ten Presidents from FDR to George Bush, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995. Contributor of articles to national magazines.
Tom Wicker, former journalist, editor, and columnist for the New York Times, developed his interest in the written word at an early age. During his childhood he read the Saturday Evening Post from cover to cover and could not set his eyes on enough historical novels to satisfy his appetite. He decided in high school to become a writer and believes that reading is the best education a writer can receive. Wicker first worked for what Time reviewer Donald Morrison labeled "a backwoods weekly," the Sandhill Citizen of Aberdeen, North Carolina, and went on to distinguish himself in various roles on the staff of the New York Times. As R.Z. Sheppard explained in Time: "When [Wicker] became the [New York Times's] Washington bureau chief and later took over the retired Arthur Krock's ‘In the Nation’ [political] column it appeared that Wicker's metamorphosis into a gentleman-journalist was complete." While Wicker retired from his position at the New York Times in 1991, he continues to write both fiction and nonfiction books, some of them best sellers.
Wicker's A Time to Die, winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1976, recounts the 1971 experience in which Wicker was asked by the rebelling inmates of New York's Attica prison to join a committee of observers to mediate and publicize the prisoners' fight for better conditions. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., stated that Wicker's narrative study "will surely appease the hunger of tens of thousands of us for an honest insider's account of what led to such a ferocious attack on virtually unarmed prisoners—prisoners who were mainly urban Puerto Ricans and blacks." According to New York Review of Books contributor Garry Wills, Wicker "came to look, and stayed to vomit, and vowed to write—and has now written, almost literally in blood, to give us what may be our most serious warning yet about what we are doing to ourselves when we do unspeakable things to others."
Chiefly a narrative of the Attica prison uprising and massacre, A Time to Die is also part confession, though told from a third-person point of view. "The book is designed like a shish kebab," wrote Vonnegut, "with novelistic scenes from [Wicker's] childhood and youth alternating with hard-edged episodes from Attica, and with Tom Wicker himself as the skewer. The materials placed shoulder-to-shoulder on the skewer are as unlike as ripe peaches and hand grenades." Discussing A Time to Die in the Village Voice, Eliot Fremont-Smith sensed embarrassment on Wicker's part and considered the third-person narration "an awkward bit of hokeyness in what is otherwise a fascinating and quite moving, candid, purging act of self-analysis—for the Attica experience was also a personal crisis for Wicker." Sheppard felt that ultimately "Wicker's book shatters the convenient forgetfulness that cocoons disturbing memories. Even his thin, novelizing technique, which includes writing about himself in the third-person singular and larding the narrative with bits of autobiography, does not lessen the book's overall effect."
In the mind of Critic contributor John Deedy, On Press is Wicker's "reflection on the career that brought him from Aberdeen (the one you don't know) … to Times Square. It is a fascinating account, not because it contains any large revelations or profound assessments—which it doesn't—but because it is an intelligent and eminently readable overview of persons and events that went into the shaping of the history of … twenty years." According to Walter Clemons in Newsweek, Wicker's analysis of American journalism "argues that the press, despite apparent bold advances in recent years, is hesitant, even timid, in its adversary relation to the government … [and that] such triumphs as the exposure of the Watergate conspiracy … remain exceptions to the general dilettantishness and lazy respectability of American reporting." For New York Times Book Review contributor Elie Abel, "there is little in … Wicker's catalogue of specific shortcomings to startle or offend the journalistic fraternity. Others have made the same critical points time and again. Nor does … Wicker offer any remedies." To Morrison, however, "the preaching, like Wicker's daily columns, is honest, pertinent—and excruciatingly self-evident."
Wicker's next work of nonfiction, One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream, is a summation of the former president's career. According to Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Martin F. Nolan, Wicker catalogues "many of Nixon's considerable accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, all obscured in historical perspective by Watergate." Nolan also described One of Us as a "revisionist" work and stated that Wicker "forgives Watergate more readily than credibility demands." Godfey Hodgson, writing in the New York Times Book Review, however, noted that the work "is an important as well as vigorously written book. Mr. Wicker's knowledge, insight and fairness have enabled him to transcend the scuffle between the friends and foes of Richard Nixon and to see him, instead, with all his strengths and weaknesses."
In Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America, Wicker examines, according to Marcia Lynn Whicker in Presidential Studies Quarterly, "the failure of presidents to realize the promise of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for racial equality," and discusses the "latent racism" expressed through a white backlash against welfare, affirmative action, and other social programs created to help minorities. Atlantic Monthly contributor Gerald Early stated that Wicker blames "a steady retreat on the question of civil rights and black advancement" for the continuing inequality between blacks and whites in America. Wicker's solution for the ongoing problem of racism in the United States is for minorities to band together and form their own political party focused on economic and social equality. This solution left many critics wondering what such a political party would accomplish. "Why such a third party movement would be any more successful in countering self and group interests than was Ross Perot's party … is not clear," wrote Whicker. Early offered a similar sentiment in his review, writing: "It is incomprehensible to me how black people could solve the problems of isolation and alienation they face in the political realm … by forming their own political party, which would seem to do nothing more than institutionalize their isolation and alienation as a disaffected minority."
Early pointed out other problems with Tragic Failure: "Wicker chose not to provide a deeply focused look at race relations and liberalism in this country. He did not interview dozens of people from various walks of life and in various locations to give their perspectives on integration and liberalism. He did not read—or at least did not provide evidence that he read—all the books, conservative and liberal, about race and the pros and cons of integration that have come out in the past ten or fifteen years." Overall, Early dubbed Tragic Failure a "sloppy, ill-considered" book. Other critics, however, reacted more positively to the book. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that "Wicker's outrage at America's deferred dreams and white backlash seems genuine," and Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan called the book "an extremely thoughtful and cogent discourse on the dismal state of contemporary race relations."
Wicker provided the text for photographer Fred J. Maroon's The Nixon Years, 1969-1974: White House to Watergate. According to Library Journal reviewer Karl Helicher, the book documents, through nearly 150 black-and-white photographs, Richard Nixon's presidency from his "triumphant inauguration" to his "anguished, dispirited resignation." Helicher noted, "Wicker … provides a brief narrative about the Nixon years and the lasting destructive Watergate legacy."
Wicker, who spent a week with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1962, penned a brief biography of the former president for the "American Presidents" series edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. According to a Publishers Weekly critic, Dwight D. Eisenhower "offers a solid account" of the "much-loved and maligned politician," with a "unique personal view" from the author. The book focuses on the main events that occurred during the Eisenhower presidency. From the desegregation of schools to Senator Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunts, Wicker provides what Library Journal contributor Michael A. Genovese called "one of the finest single-volume treatments of the Eisenhower presidency available," which is both "highly accessible and intellectually compelling."
Following Dwight D. Eisenhower, Wicker authored On the Record: An Insider's Guide to Journalism. Designed as a guide for students entering the field of journalism, On the Record focuses on journalistic issues such as ethics, privacy, and deadlines. In addition, Wicker uses personal experiences to demonstrate what life is like for a reporter on a big-name paper like the New York Times.
In 2003, Wicker contributed to Four Days in November: The Original Coverage of the John F. Kennedy Assassination by the Staff of the New York Times. Published on the fortieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Four Days in November includes an introduction by Wicker, as well as the article written just hours after the young president was shot and killed. A Publishers Weekly critic admitted that while Four Days in November is "not a book to be read cover to cover," the book is full of "terrific writing" from contributors James Reston, Anthony Lewis, and Wicker. Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor mentioned how such "brand names in journalism" as Wicker, Reston, Nan Robertson, and Russell Baker "helped produce the New York Times's proverbial first draft of history." Taylor pointed out that readers will be interested to know "how [Wicker] put together, in the initial confusion following the attack on Kennedy, the report the Times printed the next day."
Wicker's next book, George Herbert Walker Bush, chronicles the life of the first President George Bush, father of President George W. Bush. Wicker focuses more on Bush's political career than on his personal life, chronicling his rise as a successful businessman in Texas, his two-term stint in Congress, his position as U.N. ambassador, his vice presidency under Ronald Reagan, and his term as president of the United States from 1988 to 1992. Library Journal contributor Thomas J. Baldino noted: "Wicker paints a sharp, balanced portrait of the first President Bush" using "insightful commentary [to] help the reader appreciate the strengths and shortcomings of this former President." A Kirkus Reviews contributor dubbed the book "a readable life, at once respectful and critical, of Bush I." Similarly, Booklist writer Taylor remarked that Wicker "gracefully but emphatically criticizes Bush." Taylor noted: "The accommodations Bush accordingly made to the right wing … pull Wicker into his most detailed passages, which will likewise draw in politics-minded readers interested in tactics and the ways candidates prosper or perish by the media-magnified moment."
In Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy, Wicker examines the rise and fall of McCarthy's political career, attempting not only to chronicle the details of the McCarthy era and his crusade against the spread of Communism, but to offer an analysis of McCarthy himself and the motivations that drove his actions. According to Wicker's account, McCarthy was less a tyrant and a fanatic on a witch hunt, and more an ambitious individual with a strong sense of patriotism, who took advantage of certain opportunities that arose over the course of his career to forward his agenda while achieving what he felt was best for the country. In 1950, McCarthy presented a now-infamous speech in which he claimed to have a list in his possession that named 205 individuals from within the State Department as Communists. The speech itself was a last-minute substitution; initially, McCarthy was supposed to discuss housing policy. It was the remarkable media attention that McCarthy garnered with that speech that ultimately pushed him to further his claim, which proceeded to snowball into the tumultuous time in the nation's history during which many people's lives and careers were ruined. Harvey Klehr, in a review for the Weekly Standard, noted that "Wicker suggests, quite plausibly, that McCarthy was simply more reckless than most of his anti-Communist counterparts, going beyond insinuations of Communist sympathies or suggestions that a handful of employees were suspect." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that Wicker's effort "combines insightful political history with a deft character study to craft a wonderful introduction to this crucial American figure."
Not all of Wicker's works are nonfiction. Among his fictional works are his early novels, The Kingpin, The Devil Must, and The Judgment, as well as three novels published under the pseudonym Paul Connolly, Get out of Town, Tears Are for Angels, and So Fair, So Evil. Facing the Lions, his 1973 bestseller, is a political novel set in Washington, DC, in which Wicker "keeps the nitty-gritty of politics as background for a study of character," wrote a New York Times Book Review contributor. Unto This Hour uses the Second Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run) as its backdrop. "In [this] sweeping novel of the Civil War," wrote Jody Powell for the Washington Post Book World, "Wicker has again demonstrated that the real-life events of American history are unequaled as a rich setting and powerful source of inspiration for the writer of fiction…. Unto This Hour is clearly well-researched, avoiding both … historical flaws and excessive license…. This reader found nothing to offend a serious student of the war." Chicago Tribune Book World contributor Dee Brown believed that the book's "real suspense is in the characters created by the author, almost a complete catalogue of human types of the [nineteenth] century, most of them splendidly drawn, and ranging from admirable to loathsome." Conversely, a critic for the New Yorker sensed "more flash than depth in most of the characters," and an Atlantic contributor stressed that "most of them have … marched through war novels for years." Brown nevertheless concluded that, "whatever its minor faults, the book is unremitting in its power, its searing realism, its depiction of the horror and pain, the madness and brutality and the persistence of the human spirit against all these odds."
Donovan's Wife is the story of Victor T. Donovan, an obscure congressman who gains national attention after revealing that a prominent businessman made his fortune from producing pornographic films. Following this incident, Donovan decides to try to take the seat of a respected incumbent senator. His means to do this, as described by Robert Schmuhl of the Chicago Tribune Book World, include "the calculated destruction of other people's reputations and the ending of his own marriage." Ann Grimes, writing in the Washington Post Book World, called Donovan's Wife "a good yarn about family values, Washington style," while Schmuhl stated that Wicker "raises provocative concerns and questions" and "offers a starkly realistic—and frightening—view of contemporary politics."
Wicker's Easter Lilly: A Novel of the South Today tells the story of sensual Easter Lilly Odum, an imprisoned black woman accused of murdering a white jailer in racially segregated Stonewall County. When Shep Riley, a well-known civil rights attorney, hears of the case, he returns to Stonewall County to represent Easter Lilly and to prove the killing was self-defense against a rape by the jailer. Reviews for Easter Lilly were mixed. Library Journal reviewer Emily J. Jones wrote, "Wicker's trite handling of some serious socioeconomic and historical racial problems is discouraging" and added: "He is not writing about any one issue that has not been written about several times before." A Publishers Weekly critic called Easter Lilly a "stereotyped battle between mushmouthed rednecks and 1960s throwbacks" that comes across as "stagey and overwrought." The reviewer found some merit, however, in the "sexual tension" and "Wicker's serviceable ear for dialogue." Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson praised Easter Lilly, stating: "Wicker writes intently and interestingly about the mysteries of sexual attraction, the danger of good intentions, and the elusiveness of ‘the truth.’" Wilkinson pointed out that Wicker "rotates points of view among a dozen characters" for a book that is "fast-paced" and "intelligent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Almanac of Famous People, 6th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Atlantic, March, 1984, review of Unto This Hour.
Atlantic Monthly, February, 1997, Gerald Early, "Whatever Happened to Integration?," review of Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America, p. 102.
Booklist, June 1, 1996, Margaret Flanagan, review of Tragic Failure, pp. 1652, 1685; January 1, 1998, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Easter Lilly: A Novel of the South Today, p. 744; October 15, 2002, Brad Hooper, review of Dwight D. Eisenhower, p. 384; October 15, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Four Days in November: The Original Coverage of the John F. Kennedy Assassination by the Staff of the New York Times, p. 383; April 15, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of George Herbert Walker Bush, p. 1421.
Book World, September 1, 1996, review of Tragic Failure, p. 3; February 22, 1998, review of Easter Lilly, p. 3.
Chicago Tribune Book World, February 12, 1984, Dee Brown, review of Unto This Hour; November 8, 1992, Robert Schmuhl, review of Donovan's Wife, p. 6.
Critic, August 15, 1978, John Deedy, review of On Press.
Economist (U.S.), November 16, 1996, review of Tragic Failure, p. 6.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1996, review of Tragic Failure, p. 593; January 1, 1998, review of Easter Lilly, p. 20; September 1, 2002, review of Dwight D. Eisenhower, p. 1295; March 15, 2004, review of George Herbert Walker Bush, p. 264.
Library Journal, May 1, 1996, review of Tragic Failure, p. 118; April 15, 1998, Emily J. Jones, review of Easter Lilly, p. 117; October 15, 1999, Karl Helicher, review of The Nixon Years, 1969-1974: White House to Watergate, p. 87; October 1, 2002, Michael A. Genovese, review of Dwight D. Eisenhower, p. 108; April 15, 2004, Thomas J. Baldino, review of George Herbert Walker Bush, p. 104.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 31, 1991, Martin F. Nolan, review of One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream, pp. 2, 7.
Newsweek, April 24, 1978, Walter Clemons, review of On Press.
New York Review of Books, April 3, 1975, Gary Wills, review of A Time to Die.
New York Times Book Review, June 3, 1973, review of Facing the Lions; March 9, 1975, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., review of A Time to Die; April 23, 1978, Elie Abel, review of On Press; March 10, 1991, Godfrey Hodgson, review of One of Us, pp. 1, 14-15; August 20, 1995, review of One of Us, p. 24; December 3, 1995, review of One of Us, p. 88; June 23, 1996, review of Tragic Failure, p. 11; December 14, 1997, review of Unto This Hour, p. 36; February 15, 1998, review of Easter Lilly, p. 20.
New Yorker, March 19, 1984, review of Unto This Hour.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, fall, 1997, Marcia Lynn Whicker, review of Tragic Failure, p. 835.
Publishers Weekly, April 8, 1996, review of Tragic Failure, p. 46; January 5, 1998, review of Easter Lilly, p. 58; August 26, 2002, review of Dwight D. Eisenhower, pp. 51-52; September 22, 2003, review of Four Days in November, p. 92; April 12, 2004, review of George Herbert Walker Bush, p. 49; November 21, 2005, review of Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy, p. 34.
Time, March 10, 1975, R.Z. Sheppard, review of A Time to Die; May 22, 1978, Donald Morrison, review of On Press.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 2, 1995, review of One of Us, p. 8.
Utne Reader, September, 1996, review of Tragic Failure, p. 93.
Village Voice, March 17, 1975, Eliot Fremont-Smith, review of A Time to Die.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1995, review of One of Us, p. 105.
Washington Post Book World, April 23, 1978; February 12, 1984, Jody Powell, review of Unto This Hour; November 1, 1992, Ann Grimes, review of Donovan's Wife, pp. 3, 11.
Weekly Standard, July 24, 2006, Harvey Klehr, "Say It Ain't So, Joe; Senator McCarthy, Wrong and Wright."
Abbeville Press Web site,http://www.abbeville.com/ (January 16, 2003), "About the Authors: Fred J. Maroon and Tom Wicker" and description of The Nixon Years, 1969-1974: White House to Watergate.
Bedford/St. Martin's Web site,http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/ (June 7, 2004), description of On the Record: An Insider's Guide to Journalism.
Brothers Judd Web site,http://www.brothersjudd.com/ (March 26, 2001), review of One of Us.
Character above All,http://www.pbs.org/newshour/character/ (January 16, 2003), "Biographies: Tom Wicker."
Reporting Civil Rights,http://www.reportingcivilrights.org/ (June 4, 2004), "Reporters and Writers," brief biography of Tom Wicker.