Author's next chapter: book about Clinton

January 09, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

When he released the final volume to his civil rights-era trilogy last year, Taylor Branch called the 24-year project his "life's work." He wondered aloud at the time what he would do after such an undertaking.

It appears Branch has found another passion: The historian has begun a book about being Bill Clinton's diarist during the former president's eight years in office.

"I've just started writing it," said Branch from his home last week. "I started just after Labor Day."

Through Clinton's presidency, Branch said he drove to the White House late at night about once a month to record the president recounting some of the more significant moments of his tenure.

Branch described the memoirs as a secret diary. He and Clinton agreed to keep their meetings quiet, he said. Their sessions became public knowledge after Clinton used material from them for his best-selling memoir, My Life, which Branch also helped him write.

Branch has known Clinton since the early 1970s, when the two worked on Democrat George McGovern's presidential campaign. After Clinton became president, he often consulted with Branch on racial matters.

Branch said he has "thousands of pages of notes" that he collected each night he would visit Clinton, though he did not elaborate on the subject matter from their discussions.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore author said he has also moved a step closer toward getting his civil rights trilogy adapted into film, having recently sold the rights to the series to HBO.

"The deal is done," said Branch, whose previous attempts to get the work adapted for a television series were unsuccessful. Earlier efforts - pre-production for an ABC eight-hour miniseries and feature film to be directed by Jonathan Demme - fell through.

"HBO is now exploring the scope of it," Branch said. "They have not committed to a certain amount of hours."

His trilogy's final volume, At Canaan's Edge, has sold well and was nominated for a National Book Award. But Branch said many TV producers say that civil rights is too loaded a topic or isn't contemporary, even though other historical dramas such as Roots and documentaries such as Eyes on the Prize and Ken Burns' Civil War aired to critical and popular acclaim.

"To me, civil rights is about today and tomorrow," Branch said. "Civil rights is a model for how democracy ought to work, and we're stuck on the Vietnam model."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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