Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

Taylor Branch Biography

Taylor Branch is an American author and public speaker best known for his landmark narrative history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989.  Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968.  Decades later, all three books remain in demand.  Some reviewers have compared the King-era trilogy, which required more than twenty-four years of intensive research, with epic histories such as Shelby Foote’s The Civil War and Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson.

In 2009, Simon and Schuster published The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. Far more personal than Branch’s previous books, this memoir tells of an unprecedented eight-year project to gather a sitting president’s comprehensive oral history on tape.  The collaboration is a story in itself, born of mutual concern over the declining quality of raw material for presidential history.  At the initiative of President Bill Clinton, Branch suspended work on the King books about once a month to meet secretly in the White House residence, nearly always late at night.  There he prompted Clinton to record candid observations for posterity.  The book reveals a president up close and unguarded, perceived by an author struggling to balance many roles.

Aside from writing, Taylor Branch speaks before a variety of audiences—colleges, high schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, political and professional groups.  He has discussed doctrines of nonviolence with prisoners at San Quentin as well as officers at the National War College.   He has presented seminars on civil rights at Oxford University and in sixth-grade classrooms.  His 2008 speech at the National Cathedral commemorated the anniversary of Dr. King’s last Sunday sermon from that pulpit.  In 2009, he gave the Theodore H. White Lecture on the Press and Politics at Harvard.

His musical sidelights have spanned the Atlanta Boy Choir in the 1950s, a high-school folk trio, and a contemporary octet for spirituals.  In 2006, he and two friends reconstituted their 1960s college band as the cover group Off Our Rocker, which has recorded and released two CDs in playful tribute to the Beatles.

Sample of book reviews, lectures, media appearances, public commentary, and musical tracks are available on the website,

Branch began his career in 1970 as a staff journalist for The Washington Monthly, Harper’s, and Esquire. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from seven colleges and universities.  Other citations include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 and the National Humanities Medal in 1999.


The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA
( Original E-Book, 2011)

The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President (2009)

At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (Simon & Schuster, 2006)

                        Winner: Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction, 2006

                        Winner: Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, 2007

                        Winner: Search For Common Ground Book Award, 2007

Finalist: National Book Award, History, 2006

                        Finalist: National Book Critics Circle Award, Biography, 2006

                        Finalist: J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, 2007

Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65 (1998)

                        Winner: American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award, 1999

                        Winner: Sidney Hillman Book Award, 1999

                        Winner: Imus Book Award

                        Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (1988)


Winner: Pulitzer Prize for History, 1988

                        Winner: National Book Critics Circle Award, 1988

                        Winner: Los Angeles Times Book Award, 1988

                        Winner: Melcher Book Award, 1988

                        Winner: English-Speaking Union Book Award, 1989

                        Winner: Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, 1989

                        Finalist: National Book Award, Non-Fiction, 1989

                        Labyrinth (With Eugene M. Propper) (Viking: 1982)

                        The Empire Blues (fiction) (Simon & Schuster: 1981)

                        Second Wind (With Bill Russell) (Random House: 1979)

                        Blind Ambition (ghostwriter for John Dean) (Simon & Schuster: 1976)

                        Blowing the Whistle: Dissent in the Public Interest (With Charles Peters) (Praeger: 1972)

Honors:           John S. Guggenheim Fellowship, 1983

                        John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, 1991

                        U.S. National Humanities Medal, 1999

                        Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, Lifetime Achievement, 2007

                        Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Lifetime Achievement, 2008

Education:       A.B., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1968

M.P.A., Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, 1970

                        Lecturer in Politics and History, Goucher College, 1998-2000

Background:   Born January 14, 1947 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife Christina Macy. Their two children: Macy (b. 1980) and Franklin (b. 1983).