The Story of Perry Wallace Continues To Blaze Trails

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This time a year ago, MP&F partner Andrew Maraniss was waiting on pins and needles for his first book, “Strong Inside,” to be published.

Now, he’s receiving phone calls from Ethel Kennedy and having his book mentioned along with those written by the likes of Alex Haley, Pat Conroy and John Lewis, which to say the least is a true honor for him and an incredible point of pride for everyone at MP&F. How he managed to write this book – over seven years of nights and weekends – without ever letting it affect his work as a partner in this firm is still something we marvel at.

Andrew appeared on Keith Olbermann’s ESPN2 show.

Andrew appeared on Keith Olbermann’s ESPN2 show.

It’s been an amazing ride for Andrew ever since he came out of the gates at Parnassus Books with a Q&A led by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean last November. Since then, he’s appeared on ESPN, NBC and NPR, spoken about the book more than 60 times at venues in 14 states, appeared on panels with the likes of NBA stars Vince Carter and Chauncey Billups, soul legend Sam Moore, and rock-and-roller Marshall Chapman, and had the opportunity to talk to students from a kindergarten in Franklin, Tenn., to a sophomore seminar at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South,” published by Vanderbilt University Press, beat the odds when it debuted on the New York Times best-seller list in two separate categories – sports and civil rights – and remained on both lists for four months, an unheard-of feat for a first-time author published by a university press.

Andrew, center, with Genma Holmes, left, and Perry Wallace during an MP&F Speaker Series discussion at the Nashville Public Library.

Andrew, center, with Genma Holmes, left, and Perry Wallace during an MP&F Speaker Series discussion at the Nashville Public Library.

Andrew heard from Mrs. Kennedy in April, when she called to let him know that “Strong Inside” would receive an RFK Book Award at a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. More good news came recently, when it was announced that “Strong Inside” would receive a Lillian Smith Book Award in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, an honor given to books dealing seriously with issues of social and racial justice in the South. Previous winners include Haley, Conroy, Lewis and other notables, including Eudora Welty and Alice Walker. “Strong Inside” is the first sports-related book ever to receive an RFK or Lillian Smith award.

It’s all a testament, Andrew says, to the subject of his book, Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Wallace, now a law professor at American University, left a crowd of 400 people nearly speechless when he came to town to talk about the book as part of the MP&F Speaker Series last December. He’s a brilliant man, and one of the most insightful voices on issues of race you’ll ever hear. Kudos to Andrew for telling Wallace’s story and for the well-deserved recognition for this amazing book!

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