5 from 35: Authors Q & A with Wyomia Tyus & Elizabeth Terzakis
Wyomia Tyus is a four-time Olympic medalist and the holder of multiple world records. She was a supporter of the Olympic Project for Human Rights during the 1968 Olympics, doing her part to promote music for oppressed people around the world. As a founding member of the Women’s Sports Foundation, she continues to advocate for women’s equality in sports to this day.
Tyus, 73, is the author of Tigerbelle, her memoir, co-written with Elizabeth Terzakis, 53.
Elizabeth Terzakis’ fiction has appeared in New England Review, Minerva Rising, Solstice, and Birdland Journal, and her nonfiction publications include articles on the global AIDS crisis, education, free speech, human nature, and capital punishment.
Tigerbelle publishes today from Akashic Books.
What compelled you to write your story?
Mr. Temple. Mr. Temple was the coach of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles for forty-four years and headed the U.S. Olympic Women’s track teams in 1960 and 1964. The story of Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles has never been told in the way it deserves. Mr. Temple was a visionary, doing for Black women what nobody else was even thinking of doing at a time when Black women were seen as less than second-class citizens. His program not only produced 40 Olympic athletes and 27 medalists, it also led to a ninety-nine percent graduation rate. Education was as important as athletics to Mr. Temple.
How long did it take you to write your first (published) book, start to finish?
We met and started interviewing on April 3, 2016, and had our first book event on April 3, 2018, but the book went to the publisher in December of 2017, so the actual writing took about a year and eight months.
Did you ever want to quit the project? If yes, what kept you going? If no, what kept you going?
Elizabeth: When I learned of Mr. Temple’s passing, my first thought was: Wyomia is not going to want to finish the book. I was training for a half marathon at the time, and as I was running, I tried to think of ways to convince her to keep going, knowing that none of them would work if she made up her mind not to do it.
Wyomia: As we wrote in chapter 12, “Mr. Temple’s Legacy,” after Mr. Temple’s death, I did not think I would be able to finish the book. I was that devastated. But then I said to myself: If I’m going to end it where I’m the best that I can be, I’m going to have to just do nothing but work on myself. So I did. I owed it to Mr. Temple.
What’s your biggest source of encouragement (in life, or writing, in sports?)
Wyomia: I was lucky enough to have inspiration and encouragement come at me from all directions as a young person. My parents made me believe that I could do anything that I wanted to do. My brothers encouraged me to be the best at all times. Mr. Temple, as I have mentioned, believed in my ability as a runner and my promise as a student—just as he did for all the Tigerbelles. And, finally, my sister Tigerbelles gave and continue to give me all the support and encouragement that anyone could ever need.
Elizabeth: Right now, the most encouraging and inspiring thing for me is having been able to participate in telling Wyomia’s story. I feel that it is only right that she get the credit she deserves, and I feel the same way about Mr. Temple. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to help get this story out, where it belongs.
What are you reading right now?
Wyomia: Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett
Elizabeth: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward