In an announcement timed to coincide with his historic protest at the Olympic games 50 years ago, Norton Young Readers unveiled plans to publish a graphic memoir by 1968 Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith, to be co-written by Derrick Barnes, an award-winning writer for young readers.
World rights to the graphic memoir were acquired by Simon Boughton, publishing director of the newly launched Norton Young Readers imprint at W.W. Norton. The deal was negotiated by Regina Brooks of the Serendipity Literary Agency, which represents Smith and Barnes. An illustrator has not yet been chosen for the book, which also does not yet have a publication date.
Boughton described Smith as “a model of courage and integrity whose story is more timely than ever.” Fifty years ago, on October 16, 1968, during the medal ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics, Smith, the gold medal winner in the 200 meter sprint, and John Carlos, the bronze medal winner, stood on the podium in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists in a Black Power salute to protest racial injustice inflicted on African Americans. In the aftermath of their protest, both men faced a backlash. They were forced to leave the Olympics, received death threats, and encountered economic hardships as a consequence of their action.
But their political protest has long since become a landmark event in the struggle for racial equality in America, and an iconic moment in Olympic history. Indeed, their symbolic gesture of protest serves as the inspiration for social activism by a new generation of African-American athletes in the NFL and in other sports.
The forthcoming graphic memoir will look back at Smith’s childhood growing up in Texas, raised by a family of sharecroppers, and of course recap his stellar athletic career in high school and collage, culminating in his historic victory and podium protest at the Olympics. After the Olympics, Smith went on to play professional football and coach track and field at Oberlin College and at Santa Monica College.
The book will be co-written by Barnes, whose books for young readers include the YA novel We Could Be Brothers, the chapter book series Ruby and the Booker Boys, and a picture book, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. illustrated by Gordon C. James. Crown won a number of awards, including a Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Caldecott Honor, among others.
In a statement released by Smith, he said: “I am blessed to have the opportunity to share my life experiences in a time when courage, strength and faith are being tested almost daily.” He continued: “Now more than ever, we must discuss the importance of standing up for what you believe in and how courage has the capacity to lead to change.”