June 3, 1998
By John-Henry Doucette
The Virginian-Pilot

IT IS SATURDAY morning and Michael D'Orso, former English teacher, journalist, and one of the busiest writers from Canada to Mexico, has time to work in the yard.

The notes of his latest works are boxed, stacked and sorted in his upstairs office, a room decorated with framed covers from D'Orso's eight previous books.

A day off?

"I don't even know what to do,'' the 44-year-old said.

His collaboration with U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,'' will soon hit area bookstores, and he has already completed a follow-up project with Leigh Steinberg, the high-rolling sports agent many call "the real Jerry McGuire.'' It is the Lewis tale that has drawn advance praise from Sen. Ted Kennedy. It is also the Lewis story that shows what many consider the final battle of the Civil War from the eyes of the general who fought with the grunts.

For a year and a half, D'Orso lived inside John Lewis. It's what the writer calls "The Dance'' - a way of communicating, and in the case of Lewis, turning a preacher into a storyteller.

"He's the kindest man I've ever met,'' D'Orso said. "He's been imprisoned 40 times, tortured, beaten, had his skull fractured. But he comes out of this with grace.''

Lewis, a sharecropper's son from Alabama and one-time national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, believed in non-violence. D'Orso traveled with this man, often with Lewis at the wheel of his tan Pontiac. They met at Lewis' homes in Atlanta and near the nation's capital. Lewis spoke of the movement, from the Freedom Rides to Selma to Birmingham to that fateful day in Memphis to the halls of Congress; and of the people, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Julian Bond to Robert F. Kennedy.

In the kitchen, where the walls double as D'Orso's scrapbook, there is a recent addition - two pages from Esquire naming the "100 Best People in the World.''

Lewis' head floats in the bottom left corner of Page 41.

"Why keep photos in a scrapbook?'' D'Orso asked, looking at walls covered with photos, postcards and clippings. D'Orso writes his scrapbooks, records each Dance, then moves to the next.

But this one was special.

"So many of these books are written from the outside looking in,'' he said. "Writing about John Lewis, it was from the inside looking out. . . .

"This is a man who walked the walk.''