Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright

On this date in 1947, journalist and author Lawrence Wright was born in Oklahoma City to Dorothy and Donald Wright. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1965 (inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009) before earning degrees from Tulane University in New Orleans and American University in Cairo. He taught English in Egypt for two years.

Growing up, Wright imagined he could be a preacher. “It was a mistaken idea. I was religious as a teenager; it was a very pious environment and I was affected by that. As a young writer, I was covering the end of the civil rights movement, and I saw the power of religion for good. I became intrigued by the kind of personal witness I was seeing in the civil rights movement, and it made me consider how religion fit into society and where it would fit into my life.” (Publishers Weekly, Nov. 22, 2013)

His writing career started in 1971 at the Race Relations Reporter in Nashville, Tenn. He became a staff writer for Texas Monthly in 1980 and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. In 1992 he joined the staff of The New Yorker.

His first book, in 1997, was about kids from New York City’s projects spending a summer in a Pennsylvania Amish community. Two more nonfiction works followed: “Saints and Sinners” (1993) and “Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory” (1994). His “God’s Favorite: A Novel” (2000) was a darkly comic fictional account of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s fall from grace, ending in the Vatican embassy surrounded by U.S. troops blaring rock music at him.

No longer did Wright imagine wearing a clerical collar. “I’ve written extensively about religion, although I’m not religious myself. I’ve always been curious about why people believe one thing rather than another, especially in America, where you can believe anything you want. Journalists underestimate the power of religious belief. We spend so much time writing about politics, neglecting the fact that people can have very strong political views without it affecting their behavior at all, while strong religious views tend to dominate people’s lives.” (New York Times, Sept. 24, 2023)

“The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” won a Pulitzer Prize for Wright in 2007. In 2011 he wrote a New Yorker profile of moviemaker Paul Haggis, a high-ranking Scientologist who left the church after 34 years, following it up with a 2013 book “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.” He shared a 2015 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Documentary based on the book.

Wright said he didn’t intend to write an exposé. “Why would I bother to do that? Scientology is probably the most stigmatized religion in America already. But I’m fascinated by it and by what drives people to Scientology, especially given its image. … [I]t really interests me why people are drawn to one faith rather than another, especially to a system of belief that to an outsider seems absurd or dangerous.” (New York Times, Jan. 2, 2013)

He was commissioned to write a play about the Camp David peace accords, which premiered in 2014 in Washington, D.C. “I’ve spent a lot of time examining these 13 days in Camp David, when three men from three different religions are coming to solve a problem that religion caused. They all had blood on their hands, and underneath that is the Old Testament.” (Publishers Weekly, Nov. 22, 2013)

He has published 11 nonfiction books, most recently, “Mr. Texas” (2023), two novels and seven plays. Wright is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Society of American Historians and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has been married to Roberta Murphy since 1970. They have two children and live in Austin, Texas. He plays keyboards in the Austin-based blues band WhoDo, although he didn’t start playing the piano until he was 38.

PHOTO: Wright at the 2018 Texas Book Festival in Austin. © 2018 Larry D. Moore. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation