- The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South (2010)
- Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels in End-Time America (1999)
by Wesley Clark (SHS) 1999
Mississippi has been the birthplace for many famous authors. William Faulkner, perhaps one of America’s greatest authors, was born in Mississippi. Tennessee Williams was born in Mississippi as well. Another great author, although less famous, was born in Jackson, Mississippi. This author, Alex Heard, may not be as famous as the aforementioned authors, but his work is still widely read across America.
Born on October 14, 1957, Alex S Heard has become a great author whose style is loved by many. Alex Heard was born in Jackson, Mississippi to Kenneth Martin Heard and Lois Pepper Heard. Kenneth Heard, now deceased, was a pathologist. He grew up in Oxford and went to The University of Mississippi. Lois Heard is a retired nurse who grew up in Vaughan, a small town near Canton.” (Heard, Alex. Electronic Mail Interview). Alex has two brothers and a sister. Ken, the oldest, followed by Julia, and then Malcolm are all older than Alex (Heard, Julia. Personal Interview). Alex attended elementary school and junior high in Jackson (Heard, Alex. Electronic Mail Interview). In 1970 Kenneth Heard got a job and moved the family to Garden City, Kansas (Heard, Julia).
Alex grew up just like any other normal adolescent boy. He showed no interest at all in writing at a young age (Heard, Alex). Although, he had a great imagination and was very creative as a child. “He could entertain himself for hours.” (Heard, Julia). Alex was somewhat lazy when it came to his schoolwork in high school. He also had no idea of what he wanted to do later in life (Heard, Alex. Electronic Mail Interview). He never started writing seriously until his junior year in college. “I was simply looking for something to do with myself.” (A. Heard Interview).
Alex enrolled at Fort Hayes State to receive his college degree (Heard, Julia. Personal Interview). He transferred to Vanderbilt University in 1978 for his junior year. It was there where he started writing seriously. “I was an English major without much of a plan about what I wanted to do. I was lucky that Vanderbilt had a good English department and great student publications; otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten involved.” (Heard).
After graduating from Vanderbilt, Alex had a writing and reporting internship at the Nashville Tennessean. He was then an editorial intern at the Washington Monthly, a Washington D.C. based political magazine. He then became a staff writer at a weekly newspaper called Education Week. From 1984 to 1986 he was a freelance writer for various magazines. Among these magazines was The New York Republic, Harper’s, and Vanity Fair. Following these jobs, Alex became a weekly humor columnist for the Washington Post Magazine. From 1992 to 1996 Alex was the senior editor and a writer for Outside magazine. Then from 1996 to 1998 he was the senior editor and a writer for the New York Times Magazine. Presently Alex is the executive editor for Wired Magazine, a respected technology magazine (Heard).
During this ten year period, Alex has sporadically worked on his only major work to date, Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels In End-Time America. For this book he traveled around America documenting various millennial cults and religious groups with strange beliefs. Apocalypse Pretty Soon was released in February of 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company. Alex is not working on another book at this point, but he is thinking of writing a novel in the future (Heard).
Alex has many favorite authors. Among these authors are Walker Percy, Kingsley Amis, Charles Portis, Harper Lee, Joseph Mitchell, Martin Amis, John Kennedy Toole, and Jack Kerouac. “A lot of his reading over the years has been oddball books that most people have never heard of.” (Heard, Alex. Electronic Mail Interview). His favorite books as a child were The Yearling and Huckleberry Finn. Alex has learned a lot from Ron Rosenbaum. He has been influenced stylistically by him. Although, Alex spent a lot of time in college trying to develop his own writing style (Heard, Alex. Electronic Mail Interview). Alex and his wife Susan currently live in San Francisco, California. He recently moved from the east coast to his present location on the west coast. Alex has no children. Although, “he has a cat named Commander.” (Heard, Julia. Personal Interview).
Alex believes that living in Mississippi has helped him develop a sense of humor. “Mississippians, in general, have good senses of humor, and I think I ‘learned how to be funny’ there. My brothers and sister are very funny, so I picked up a lot from them.” (Heard, Alex. Electronic Mail Interview). “We (Alex’s siblings) were funny. Our family was funny, but he (Alex) was the funniest.” (Heard, Julia. Personal Interview).
Although he has not won any awards for his work, Alex Heard is a great writer. Many of America’s greatest writers do not become well recognized until later in life. Alex has a promising career ahead of him. Even though he is not William Faulkner or Tennessee Williams, he has contributed greatly to Mississippi’s history of writers.
In 2010, Harper Collins published Alex Heard’s The Eyes of Willie McGee. According to the press release for the non-fiction work, Heard’s story is about Willie McGee, a young African-American man from Laurel, Mississippi, who in 1945 was “sentenced to death for allegedly raping Willette Hawkins, a white housewife. At first, McGee’s case was barely noticed, covered only in hostile Mississippi newspapers and far-left publications such as the DailyWorker. Then Bella Abzug, a young New York labor lawyer, was hired by the Civil Rights Congress–an aggressive civil rights organization with ties to the Communist Party of the United States–to oversee McGee’s defense. Together with William Patterson, the son of a slave and a devout believer in the need for revolutionary change, Abzug and a group of white Mississippi lawyers risked their lives to plead McGee’s case. After years of court battles, McGee’s supporters flooded President Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Supreme Court with clemency pleas, and famous Americans–including William Faulkner, Albert Einstein, Jessica Mitford, Paul Robeson, Norman Mailer, and Josephine Baker–spoke out on McGee’s behalf.
By the time the case ended in 1951 with McGee’s public execution in Mississippi’s infamous traveling electric chair, “Free Willie McGee” had become a rallying cry among civil rights activists, progressives, leftists, and Communist Party members. Their movement had succeeded in convincing millions of people worldwide that McGee had been framed and that the real story involved a consensual love affair between him and Mrs. Hawkins–one that she had instigated and controlled. As Heard discovered, this controversial theory is a doorway to a tangle of secrets that spawned a legacy of confusion, misinformation, and pain that still resonates today. The mysteries surrounding McGee’s case live on in this provocative tale of justice in the Deep South.
Based on exhaustive documentary research–court transcripts, newspaper reports, archived papers, letters, FBI documents, and the recollections of family members on both sides–Mississippi native Alex Heard tells a moving and unforgettable story that evokes the bitter conflicts between black and white, North and South, in America” during that era.
Alex Heard is currently the editorial director of Outside magazine and now lives with his wife in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
- 1980: Writing and reporting internship at the Nashville Tennessean.
- 1980-1981: Editorial intern at the Washington Monthly, a political magazine in Washington D.C.
- 1982-1983: Staff writer at Education Week, a weekly newspaper.
- 1984-1986: Freelance writer for various magazines, including The New Republic,Harper’s, Vanity Fair.
- 1986-1988: Weekly humor columnist for the Washington Post Magazine.
- 1988-1992: Freelance writer for more magazines and papers.
- 1992-1996: Senior editor and writer at Outside magazine, based in Chicago and (later) Santa Fe.
- 1996-1998: Senior editor and writer at the New York Times Magazine, in New York.
- 1999: Executive editor at Wired Magazine, San Francisco, California. 1999-Apocalypse Pretty Soon published
- 2010-The Eyes of Willie Magee published by Harper Collins.
A Review of Apocalypse Pretty Soon
by Wesley Clark (SHS) 1999
Alex Heard’s Apocalypse Pretty Soon is a great book. It is enlightening and entertaining. This book was very funny. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone. Apocalypse Pretty Soon explores America’s bizarre side. It even scares you a little when you realize what is actually happening under your nose. It also makes you wander what else is happening that we don’t know about. This book presented the information to me and kept me thinking.
Alex Heard traveled around America looking for “weird” groups of people by today’s standards. These “weird” people included millennial, utopian, and doomsday cults, and even a Pentecostal dairy farmer from Mississippi who believes his red heifer is a sign of a new temple being built in Jerusalem. This book opens your eyes to other people’s beliefs and thoughts.
I would recommend this book to anyone. It was great! The book was funny and kept me going until the end. If you get a chance, please read this book. It is great, and you will enjoy it.
Interview with Alex Heard (1999)
by Wesley Clark (SHS)
Wesley: What are your major works?
Alex: I have only written one book, which you know about. From 1980 to the present I’ve worked in journalism and I’ve written a zillion newspaper and magazine articles.
Wesley: Who is your favorite author?
Alex: I don’t have just one, but I tend to like history in general and funny and/or strange novels. Some of my favorite writers include:
Walker Percy: I especially like The Moviegoer.
Kingsley Amis: Lucky Jim
Charles Portis: The Dog of the South
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
Joseph Mitchell: Up in the Old Hotel
Martin Amis: Money
John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces
Jack Kerouac is another old favorite, though he’s more of a college-age enthusiasm. I liked
On the Road a lot. My two favorite books as a kid were The Yearling andHuckleberry Finn.
In general, though, a LOT of my reading over the years has been of oddball books that most people have not heard of. You can get an idea of what I mean by looking at the notes of Apocalypse Pretty Soon. I’ve had to read a lot of “fringe” stuff to understand the topics I’m writing about. (I’ve also wanted to read these books; they’re fun.)
Wesley: What author do you think has influenced you the most?
Alex: Hmmm. I don’t know. Stylistically, I learned a lot from Ron Rosenbaum, a journalist who wrote a great though not that well-known book of journalism called Oswald’s Ghost. Most of these stories were about strange subcultures, and I admired the way he delved into them without taking cheap shots. I wouldn’t say he was my “most” influential, though. I spent a lot of time in college trying to develop my own style.
Wesley: Why did you decide to write about “End-Times America” as the subject of your book Apocalypse Pretty Soon?
Alex: I got interested in fringe subcultures while writing magazine articles in Washington, D.C. Pretty much by accident, I ran into a millennial subculture called “Earth Changes,” which I devote a chapter to. I realized pretty quickly that this millennial material was fascinating and funny, so I started digging around for more.
Wesley: When did you become interested in writing? Was there something in particular that got you interested in writing?
Alex: I came very late to writing and journalism. I was not interested in journalism AT ALL as a kid, and only started writing seriously during my junior year at Vanderbilt. I was simply looking for something I could do with myself: at the time, I was an English major without much of a plan about what I wanted to do. I was lucky that Vanderbilt had a good English department and great student publications; otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten involved.
Wesley: How long did it take you to write Apocalypse Pretty Soon? Where did you get the idea for this book?
Alex: I worked on the book sporadically over a period of 10 years. But I only worked on it really hard — reporting in the field and writing — for two years, 1997 and 1998. I was working during this period, and in that last year, 1998, I worked almost every night and part of most weekends to get the book written in time.
Wesley: Are you working on a new book right now? If so do you have a title for it yet? And, what is it about?
Alex: No plans for a new book yet, though I’m thinking about trying a novel.
Wesley: Have you received any awards for your writing?
Wesley: Do you have any advice for future writers?
Alex: Read a lot of books and newspapers and try to travel as much as you can.
Wesley: Do you have any advice for students today?
Alex: Hang in there.
Wesley: How has Mississippi or living in Mississippi influenced your writing?
Alex: Mississippians, in general, have good senses of humor, and I think I “learned how to be funny” there. My brothers and sister were/are very funny, so I picked up a lot from them.
- Alex Heard hits the road and uncovers a bizarre underworld of millennial strivers
- Some Not-So-Civil War Games by Alex Heard
- Apocalypse Soon : Ron Cole had a revolutionary Web site, a cache of automatic weapons, and a
- Amazon.com – Reader’s comments about Apocalypse Pretty Soon.
- Heard, Alex. Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels In End-Time America. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999
- Heard, Alex. Electronic Mail Interview. May 1, 1999.
- Heard, Julia. Personal Interview. May 9, 1999.