September 8, 1998
By Larry Maddry
The Virginian-Pilot

AS BOOK promotions go, having a photo of the president of the United States appear on the front page of The New York Times reading your book has to rank high.

It's particularly pleasing when the nation's chief executive quotes passages from your book in a speech covered by the television networks.

"And maybe even better when you have no idea it's coming,'' says Michael D'Orso of Norfolk, the co-author of "Walking With the Wind,'' a memoir of the civil rights movement and the extraordinary life of Georgian John Lewis - a black sharecropper's son now serving his sixth term in Congress.

"Walking With the Wind'' received the kind of publicity book agents only dream about when President Clinton carried the book with him into a wood-shingled chapel on Martha's Vineyard on the last weekend in August. And once inside, he read lengthy passages from it. The church service honored Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream'' speech and the civil rights march on Washington 35 years ago.

"When you think of all the wires that had to come together to light up the book, it's pretty remarkable,'' D'Orso said.

Remarkable, indeed. Hailed by some as the definitive account of the civil rights movement, "Walking With the Wind'' has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Yet a prominent mention in a major news story flashed around the world never hurts. The book resonates with strong chords of forgiveness, making it a prescription for the presidential malaise.

Yes, "forgiving'' was the key word. A former national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was imprisoned 40 times, tortured and beaten in his attempt to win equality for blacks.

Yet, the Georgian retained a radiant grace about him, according to D'Orso. Writer Garry Wills said Lewis was living proof that one can be uncompromising "without being unforgiving.''

Clinton said he learned of forgiveness from the civil rights movement and Lewis' example.

"And so it is important that we are able to forgive those we believe have wronged us, even as we ask for forgiveness from people we have wronged,'' Clinton said.

He concluded his 28-minute talk by quoting from the book's foreword - which explained its title. In his youth, Lewis and his siblings huddled during a storm that rocked their rickety house. And they held hands - moving toward that corner of the house raised by the wind, to hold it down.

Lewis wrote that his view of America was similar to that scene from his childhood: Children holding hands struggling to respond with decency, dignity and a sense of brotherhood to the nation's challenges.

As the president was making news in the church at Martha's Vineyard, Michael D'Orso had no idea what was happening. He was doing a lot more talking about the wind than walking with it at his riverside home in Colonial Place in Norfolk on that Friday. And cleaning up debris - like the rest of us.

"The storm came through and uprooted a willow tree which was three stories tall that had formerly shaded my deck,'' he recalled. "It just blew down.'' He was so distracted by the storm that he missed watching television news or reading The New York Times, the former Virginian-Pilot reporter noted.

"I was the last to know,'' he conceded. "Then people began to say `Hey Mike, it must have been exciting when the president read from your book,' '' he recalled.

C-Span, the cable information channel, had run the president's speech in its entirety, he learned. By Monday morning, he was eager to see what the excitement was supposed to be about. He couldn't find a copy of The New York Times at magazine counters, so he drove to the Pilot's editorial offices so he could read about the doings at the church in Martha's Vineyard.
By Monday afternoon Lewis called to tell him the news he had only recently learned himself.

"He said it was an incredible moment to see the president walk into the church with a copy of our book in his hand.''

D'Orso said Lewis had mailed the president the first copy of "Walking With the Wind'' received from the publisher back in May. But he assumed a lot of authors do the same. The Norfolkian said the book, published by Simon & Schuster, had just moved into its third printing before the speech.

"Now we've gotten a tremendous boost,'' D'Orso said. "It's begun to pick up steam again. The publisher is talking about a new and bigger ad campaign.''

Oh, I almost forgot. D'Orso said he had just returned from a visit with his parents in California when the hurricane struck.

"My parents are very conservative Republicans - the kind that still write letters to the editor defending Nixon,'' he noted.

He said his parents would normally be extremely appreciative for the help a president gave their son's book.

"But on this president, they are conflicted,'' he said. "I can only say their pride in their son is greater than their distrust for the man.''