The Word Warrior and the Greatest

williams word warriorRichard Durham’s varied career reflected his work ethic and tireless dedication to the many causes that drew him in. Putting aside his community and labor organizing, Durham’s writing included stints as a dramatist, star investigative reporter, newspaper editor, and the creative force behind acclaimed radio series like Destination Freedom and Here Comes Tomorrow.

In the early 1970s, Durham took on one of his greatest challenges: co-writing the autobiography of boxing champ and cultural icon Muhammad Ali. Sonja D. Williams looks at the relationship between the men in her celebrated biography of Durham, Word Warrior. Williams’s fascinating chapter on Durham’s time with Ali reveals much about the two men on a personal level, to say nothing of Ali’s underrated and overwhelming personality. As Durham once said:

Ali has an amazing mind, and as a result [he] can concentrate harder on some things than almost anyone else. A lot of people think it’s just roadwork, speed and his personality that got Ali to the top. But if you lived with him you’d see how much more it is,” Durham explained. “He studies everything, doesn’t miss anything, puts himself in every possible situation with his opponent countless times before it ever happens in the ring.

Later he noted:

Some people have two personalities, Muhammad has five. When he is alone he is brilliant, when he is with a companion he is meditative, in the boxing ring he concentrates and for the press he is a clown.

Oh, and the book’s editor at Random House? Only future Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Williams tells us:

Toni Morrison also really liked Muhammad Ali. “Ali was sort of flirtatious, like a boy almost. When I first met him he said, you know we can have three wives,” Morrison laughed, recalling her reaction. “Please!” she said, laughing even more. “I’m old enough to be your mama!” Still, Morrison saw Ali as “an absolute delight, and that delightful quality Richard was able to catch. He was a very, very good writer.”