Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Walt Harrington  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Non-fiction

Audience: Adult; Adult;

Born: 1950 in Will County, Illinois

-- Website --
-- Walt Harrington on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

Walt was born in Will county and currently resides in Urbana.

Biographical and Professional Information

Walt Harrington is head of the journalism department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Along with the books he has written, he has also edited ''The Beholder's Eye: A Collection of America's Finest Personal Journalism'', ''Next Wave: America's New Generation of Great Literary Journalists'' and ''Slices of Life.'' Harrington was a staff writer for the ''Washington Post Magazine'' for 15 years, and is the winner of twenty local, state and national journalism awards. He has been nominated for a Pulitzer several times.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

American Profiles: Somebodies and Nobodies Who Matter
ISBN: 0826208398

University of Missouri. 1992

Author Walt Harrington, award-winning writer for the Washington Post Magazine, lifts the masks of celebrity and obscurity to reveal the lives of some singular men and women--from actress Kelly McGillis to nocturnal satanist Anton LaVey.

Crossings: A White Man's Journey Into Black America
ISBN: 082621259X

University of Missouri. 1999

One day in the dentist's office journalist Walt Harrington heard a casual racist joke that left him enraged. Married to a black woman, Harrington is the father of two biracial children. His experience in the dentist's office made him realize not only that the joke was about his own children but also that he really knew very little about what it was like to be a black person in America.

After this rude awakening, Harrington set off on a twenty- five-thousand-mile journey through black America, talking with scores of black and white people along the way, including an old sharecropper, a city police chief, a jazz trumpeter, a convicted murderer, a welfare mother, and a corporate mogul. In Crossings, winner of the Gustavus Myers Award for the Study of Human Rights, he relates what he learned as he listened.

At the Heart of It: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives
ISBN: 0826210783

University of Missouri. 1996

Delving into the everyday lives of real, everyday people, Walt Harrington skillfully draws the reader into an intimate relationship with the men and women profiled in this powerful collection of stories--people like V. I. Smith, a homicide detective Deane Guy, a stock car racer Jackie Jordan, a social worker in family services and Sheri D'Amato, a girls' soccer coach.

Originally appearing in the Washington Post Magazine, these stories, which capture a cross section of Americans, stand out in the field of journalism because of the unique way in which Walt Harrington uses unheralded, individual lives to elaborate on the great human issues of the day. In "Mothers and Daughters" three generations of women discuss how society affected the choices they made and who they became. "The Mystery of Goodness" follows a Harvard-educated lawyer who handles death-row cases for very little money because he feels the system is unfair to African Americans. In "To Have and Have Not" a young couple with two small children struggle to make ends meet. Harrington describes in detail the creation of a poem by Rita Dove, then United States Poet Laureate, in "The Shape of Her Dreaming."

Harrington has adeptly combined sociology and journalism into beautiful prose. As "literary journalism," the stories employ scene, dialogue, and physical description within a narrative framework. At the same time, they also adhere to all the traditional journalistic standards of accuracy, fairness, and balance. As a result, At the Heart of It represents a subgenre that is rarely practiced and seldom understood even within the profession of journalism.

All of these stories are snapshots, pieces of everyday life in America that are intended to be a mirror held to the lives of readers. These are not stories about which you can remain neutral even the most casual readers will be moved by the glimpses Walt Harrington provides us of ourselves.

Intimate Journalism: The Art and Craft of Reporting Everyday Life
ISBN: 0761905863

SAGE Publications, Inc. 1997

An exemplary text for courses in feature writing, magazine and literary journalism, Intimate Journalism introduces students to the art of combining human interest stories with incisive journalistic enquiry. Harrington prefaces this outstanding collection of award-winning feature articles with detailed, practical reporting advice, sharing trade secrets from his 15 years as a staff writer for The Washington Post. The following chapters each contain examples of human interest reporting, followed by an invaluable afterward from each journalist describing how he or she conceptualized, reported and wrote their particular story.

The Everlasting Stream: A True Story of Rabbits, Guns, Friendship, and Family
ISBN: 0802140505

Grove Press. 2004

When Walt Harrington was first invited to Kentucky to hunt with his African American father-in-law and his country friends--Bobby, Lewis, and Carl--he was a jet-setting reporter for The Washington Post with a distaste for killing animals and for the men’s brand of old-fashioned masculinity. But over the next 12 years, this white city slicker entered a world of life, death, nature, and manhood that came to seem not brutal or outdated but beautiful in a way his experience in Washington was not. The Everlasting Stream is the absorbing, touching, and often hilarious story of how hunting with these "good ol' boys" forced an "enlightened" man to reexamine his modern notions of guilt and responsibility, friendship and masculinity, ambition and satisfaction.

In crisp prose that bring autumn mornings crackling to life, Harrington shares the lessons that led him to leave Washington. When his son turned 14, Harrington began taking him hunting too, believing that these rough-edged, whiskey-drinking men could teach his suburban boy something worthwhile about lives different from his own, the joy of small moments, and the old-fashioned belief that a man's actions mean more than his words.

The Everlasting Stream is a funny, intimate, inspiring meditation on the meaning of a life well lived.

Walt recounts the first time he went shooting with his father-in-law, Alex, in rural Glasgow, Kentucky, during a Thanksgiving visit with his wife. “I lived in Washington DC, where most people I knew believed hunters were sick, violent men.” His attitude toward his African-American hunting mates (“I was white, and I figured it was going to be my worry to fit in”) is “condescending as hell,” but it all turns around when he shoots his first rabbit, and surprises himself with the purity of his exhuberence when he calls out, “I got him!” He discusses the repulsion over having to clean his rabbit, but when his guests act similarly repulsed when he serves them rabbit dinner, he says “I think I’m going to kill some more.”

He describes hunting with Alex, Bobby, Lewis and Carl in a gully half the length of football field. “Over the years I’ve become convinced that Alex, Bobby, Lewis, and Carl have discovered the secrets of living life well,” although “the idea that these men had anything to teach me didn’t come to me for many Thanksgiving vacations.” He is attracted by how well they get to know a place through hunting it: “How many of us can say that about any place in our lives?” The men are like relics of a bygone era, but they eventually convinced him that he should bring his son along too. He introduces Carl and Bobby, who have retired from factory jobs—they own sixty acres together in the country. Lewis bought his own 18-wheel rig a few years ago and still hauls freight. Alex is retired and has many hobbies. The men talk in a colorful drawl about their dogs, teasing each other mercilessly.

He talks about hunting at the Old Collins Place. Every time he comes back there, he sees something for the first time. He talks about how ambitious he was as a kid, determined to make a name for himself in journalism. He meets his wife-to-be, Keran, and works thankless 70-hour weeks until he finally writes a profile of George Bush that gets him major attention, a huge raise, and freedom to cover other figures such as Jesse Jackson, Jerry Falwell, etc.

His son Matt catches a rabbit and gets a sip off the post-hunting bottle of Wild Turkey. He discusses his tough decision of taking the boy hunting for the first time when he was seven: “Really I rolled the dice. I knew that most affluent city perople would shield their sons from such rough men and gritty settings. But after my first few years of hunting I deced that the forests, fields, wind, rain moon, stars, leaves, weeds, guns, killing, cursing, drinking—and naturally the men themselves—would be good for Matt.” He describes skinning and gutting a rabit—he does it without squeamishness because “it has to be done,” the same way you have to clean up a kid’s vomit.

He discusses the time it dawned on him that he had come to savor things—the Miro painting he owns, for instance— and asks himself “I love my work but what if the day comes when I don’t? What happens to all of this? What happens to me? Will I be trapped in my affluence for the rest of my life?” (The climax of his career comes when President Bush is seriously considering appointing him as his official biographer, and even invites him to a celebrity-studded dinner, but eventually Bush decides the security risk is too great. Harrington considers it a blessing in disguise, thinking about all of the quality time he would have lost with his son, etc.)

He recalls a morning of picture-perfect contentment at a place called the Everlasting Stream—“such memorable moments are like waking versions of lucid dreams. We are within them and outside them at once as they are happening.” He reflects “To this day I don’t believe I have ever seen men so at ease, so thoroughly enjoying one another’s company.” He realizes he hasn’t had true friends like these since he was kid.

He talks about the way that moment at the Everlasting Stream has caused him to think of hunting not just as a diversion, but to think of it off and on throughout the year. Carl takes him to the four-room shack where he grew up and Harrington is shocked by how small and run-down it is. Carl says “We hunted to eat.”

He describes being in the zone—“hunters since Socrates onward have described an ethereal hunter’s state of mental and emotional clarity. What nature writer James Swan calls the Zen of hunting--- ‘a state of awe and reverence, which I sthe emotional foundation for transcendence.”

He talks about the joys of hanging out in Lewis’s garage after hunting. “I have come to love hearing the men laugh. After all the years, if I were blind I’d still know the men by their laughs.” .. “Listening to the men is like watching a pinball bounce around its board. The action is impossible to predict but it isn’t random. The point is to relax and lety my time with the men wash over me in the way that a Christmas midnight Mass with candles and organ and incense would wash over me as a boy.”

Acts of Creation: America's Finest Hand Craftsmen at Work
ISBN: 0989524167

Sager Group, The. 2014

“This collection of profiles about great American craftsmen is itself the handiwork of a great American craftsman.” -–David Grogan, This Old House Magazine

ForActs of Creation, award-winning journalist Walt Harrington travels America searching for the magical nexus of craft, talent, and mastery that gives birth to a functional work of art—and leaves its maker with a sense of satisfaction and achievement known well to fine craftsmen across the ages.

A builder of monumental fireplaces in Maine. A cabinet maker in Maryland. A millwright in Virginia. A locksmith and a house framer in Ohio. A hardwood floor man in Indiana. A blacksmith in Illinois. A stone carver in California. Not one of the fourteen craftsmen and woman profiled believes he or she is working only to build a house, to renovate a watermill, to cast a plaster medallion. Each imbues their work with grander purpose—Michael Seward wants the people who buy his furniture to experience an emotional connection Chuck Crispin wants his clients’ lives to be evoked in his floor designs Charles Keller wants the highly educated world to appreciate the complicated genius of not only fine blacksmithing but all fine craftsmen.

The profiles in Acts of Creationhelp to reclaim the place of craftsmanship in a consumerist era that places higher value on profit and branding than it does on dedicated excellence. These craftsmen offer not only lessons about craftsmanship, but also about life.

“Acts of Creation is a lovely collection of literary journalism, written by a master of the form. Walt Harrington’s gracefully nuanced prose, full of feeling and finely observed detail, wonderfully conveys the world of craftsmen in all its artful integrity. In the grand tradition of Tracy Kidder, John McPhee and Joseph Mitchell, Harrington offers us a fascinating and enduring homage to men at work.” –-Barry Siegel Pulitzer Prize winner director of the Literary Journalism Program, University of California, Irvine

“Acts of Creation is an example of what happens when a top-notch writer, laboring in solitude with purity of purpose, puts the right words in the right order.” --Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize winner, author of Uphill Walkers: Portrait of a Family

“A compelling tribute to Americans who work with their hands and hearts.” --Pete Earley, author, “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.”


  • Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award
  • Two National Association of Black Journalists writing Awards
  • Northwestern University's John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Journalism
  • Three national Sunday magazine writing awards
  • Lowell Mellett Award for improving journalism through critical evaluation
  • Gustavus Myers Award for the study of human rights in the United States for ''Crossings'', chronicle of Harrington's 25,000 milejourney through black America.
  • Walt was honored at the 2005 Illinois Authors Book Fair sponsored by the Illinois Center for the Book and the Illinois State Library in Springfield, Illinois.

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