Morris: Ghostwriter Lonnie Wheeler steps out of the shadows

From Bill Morris at The Daily Beast on September 17, 2014:

A book tour can’t be all work and no play. So when my current tour landed me in Cincinnati on my way from Atlanta to Detroit, I made time for a side trip a few miles up the Ohio River to the hamlet of New Richmond. There, in his cluttered office at the end of a gravel lane, I came face to face with one of my unsung literary heroes.

Lonnie Wheeler is a ghost, in book world parlance. That is, he’s a ghostwriter, an invisible spirit who takes the thoughts and words of a chosen subject—usually a famous person—and turns that raw material into a book that is a sublime paradox. If it’s a success, the book will capture the subject’s voice, yet it will be a book the subject could not possibly have written by himself.

I heard of Lonnie Wheeler while doing research into Coleman Young, the first black mayor of my hometown, Detroit. I knew Young only as a figment of the news media: a foul-mouthed, race-baiting, bare-knuckled pol who ruled the Motor City like his personal fief from 1974 until 1994, two decades of relentless, seemingly fatal decline for what was once the fifth-largest city in America. Then I picked up a book that shredded my facile preconceptions—Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young. In small print below the title were two names: Coleman Young and Lonnie Wheeler.

The mayor and his ghost.

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Originally published: September 18, 2014. Last Updated: September 18, 2014.