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Walter Bennett '65 Wins Praise for Civil Rights Novel

As a teenager growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the 1950s, Walter Bennett, a 1965 graduate of Washington and Lee, was cruising with his white friends through the black section of town when someone in the car threw an egg at an African-American man.

That incident stuck with Walter, and he began his first full-length novel, “Leaving Tuscaloosa,” with it.

Walter’s novel was published in October and has received considerable critical praise, including this from novelist Lee Smith: “I’ve been there. I worked on the Tuscaloosa News in the early 70s, and I can tell you flat-out that Walter Bennett has a real gift for capturing time and place, and an absolute genius for creating his larger-than-life yet totally believable characters. ‘Leaving Tuscaloosa’ is deeply moving, disturbing, haunting, and important.”

After graduating from W&L and serving in Vietnam, Walter received an M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he later received an LL.M. He began his legal career in Charlotte and served as a district court judge. In 1986, he joined the faculty at the UNC law school as a clinical supervising attorney.

Before “Leaving Tuscaloosa,” Walter had published short fiction in both print and online journals, including Voices and The Courtland Review; essays (most recently “Black Quill,” in Astream: American Writers on Fly Fishing, Spring 2012, Skyhorse Publishing); numerous articles on the law; and a highly acclaimed book: “The Lawyer’s Myth: Reviving Ideals in the Legal Profession” (University of Chicago Press, 2001).

The novel was a 2010 finalist for the Bellwether Prize for unpublished work, now called the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

In an interview on the Fuze Publishing website, Walter described the way he approached the novel: “I became passionate about civil rights when I began to understand what ‘we’ –- our white-controlled society and political institutions –- had done to people of color, the irreparable damage it had caused, the horrible, moral offense of it.  Part of my ‘passion’ about it was guilt, but part of it was an effort to set things right, to join a cause that was fundamentally decent and human and dealt with what I believe was the defining moral issue of our time.”

In addition to bookstores and the usual online sources, “Leaving Tuscaloosa” may be purchased in print or digital format at www.fuzepublishing.com. Walter will donate a percentage of profits from all sales through the Fuze website to The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and The International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in Greensboro, N.C.

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