From November 15 to November 22, the Miami Book Fair will host free virtual programming featuring learning activities for children and a lineup of more than 200 authors. Be sure to catch Amy Paige Condon, who will join former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence for a virtual discussion of her book, A Nervous Man Shouldn’t Be Here in the First Place: The Life of Bill Baggs, the first biography on the life of the young Miami News editor and his impact on some of the twentieth century’s most earth-shattering events. Ahead of the literary talk, which will be available online, Condon shares some of her insight below.
What inspired you to write about Bill Baggs?
I first heard about Bigg Baggs when I visited the state park on Key Biscayne named after him during my first week on the job as a county manager’s trainee. I ended up working as a planner for the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department during the next 16 years, and every time I spoke with the park ranger I learned a little more about Baggs’ work as an editor and how he fought for civil rights and for the state park. In 2007, I took a weekend-long creative writing class at Miami-Dade College, and that’s where I met his widow, Frec Baggs, who told me so much more about him. That’s when I knew I was meant to tell his life story.
What have you found most fascinating about the Miami journalist?
Bill was one of the Southern civil rights editors, a small cadre of newspaper reporters and editors who broke with the prevailing Jim Crow codes and pushed for desegregation in schools and other public facilities. He helped negotiate the desegregation of Burdines’ and Jordan Marsh’s tearooms, restrooms, and dressing rooms and held the commitment letter in trust. His newspaper broke the Cuban Missile Crisis story two weeks before President Kennedy confirmed that the Soviet Union was building missile silos on the island. Also, Baggs was the last U.S. journalist to interview North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War. He traveled there twice and brought back with him what was called the aide-memoire, North Vietnam’s conditions for peace. These became the basis of the Paris Peace Talks.
How has the pandemic affected your work as a writer?
I can work from anywhere, but I really miss interviewing people in person and immersing myself in a moment, because that’s really where the story is—in the body language, in the noise, smells, sounds, and feelings. I had so hoped to launch A Nervous Man Shouldn’t Be Here in the First Place in person in Miami, but I’m also embracing that by going virtual we may reach more readers who might not have discovered the book. I cannot wait for the conversation with Dave Lawrence. I’m a fan and it will be like being interviewed by one of the newspaper’s greats.