Nick Chiles authors new memoir about Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

It seems fitting that Nick Chiles (MFA ’22), a Distinguished Writer in Residence, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and teacher of feature writing courses, spends a lot of time outside of the classroom writing.

Chiles has spent more time writing in recent years than teaching as evident by the fact that his 21st book was just published, 13 of them co-authored with celebrities. Like many of his other books his latest, “In the Blink of an Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf,” is an intimate perspective into a person’s life, and this book about Abdul-Rauf hit a special chord with Chiles.

“At this point in my career, I turn a lot of stuff down,” Chiles explains. “I am teaching full time and there only so many hours in the day. But this project resonated with me and I felt it was an important story to tell.”

Cover of "In the Blink of An Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf"
“In the Blink of an Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf” is the 21st book written by Chiles.

Chiles was very familiar with Abdul-Rauf before he took the call to co-author the book. Chiles grew up a sports fan of New York teams like the Yankees and the New York Knicks, and followed NBA teams including those that Abdul-Rauf played for—the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Vancouver Grizzlies. In addition to his time as an All-American point guard, Abdul-Rauf is probably most known for his social justice stance taken in 1996 when he refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before his games because he felt the American flag was a symbol of tyranny.

“In the Blink of an Eye” is one of the first books published by Kaepernick Publishing, Colin Kaepernick’s new venture, and it draws parallels with his own experience confronting controversy over his refusal to stand during the national anthem before football games.

Chiles personally related to Abdul-Rauf the same way he related to Kaepernick.

Chiles explains: “The hypocrisy of it all…that you are not allowed to take a religious stance or political stance about this national anthem in a country where citizens are so zealously clutching their chest and saying you have to honor them when you salute the flag…they were fighting for our right to be able to have freedom of speech.”

Chiles has worked as a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, the Star-Ledger of Newark and New York Newsday, where he was on a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for a package of stories about a fatal subway crash. Through the years, Chiles has co-authored books with Jamie Foxx and Bobby Brown among others, and he spends several months shadowing and interviewing his subjects in person and over Zoom.

“I try to spend time around them to get a sense of their voice and their world view,” said Chiles of the process. “I call it ‘literary ventriloquism.’ My goal is that if you were to ask me a question about what one of my subjects thinks about global warming for example or the male/female pay gap, I would be able to answer in their voice because I knew them well enough.”

He said many of the people he co-authors books with are taken aback by how many questions are asked and how detailed he gets.

“I’m asking a million questions during the interviews. It’s usually pretty emotional for people because we are probing many topics. It’s pretty much like therapy.”

The parallel to therapy is one that Chiles appreciates since he majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Yale University. He was recruited to play baseball and was bitten by the writing bug when he wandered into the campus newspaper office. From there, he rose to the job of sports editor.

Since then, Chiles has earned an MFA in Narrative Nonfiction at UGA with the goal of teaching.

“I didn’t know what to expect of the program, but it had tremendous impact on me,” Chiles admits. “I did a lot of reading in the program, which was extremely helpful and beneficial. It really forced me to study how other people do what I do and I learned a lot.”

Although he has aspirations of working with other celebrities—Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z and Denzel Washington are on his wish list—he hopes people will be inspired by the valor and courage he writes about Abdul-Rauf in the book.

Chiles concludes: “This man had this belief and he could have just as easily bent to the NBA’s will and started standing for the national anthem, but he thought that was dishonoring who he was and he stuck to his principles.  I think there is something to be said for that. Convictions and strength of character are noteworthy and you have to stop and pause and learn those lessons.”

To learn more about “In the Blink of an Eye: An Autobiography of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf,” please visit local independent book retailer Avid Bookshop, or Amazon.

Nick Chiles talks with students in his writing class.
Chiles teaches feature writing courses at Grady College.

Alumni Authors: Linda Hurtado Bond and Stacy Willingham

Authors Linda Hurtado Bond (ABJ ‘89) and Stacy Willingham (ABJ ‘13) have a lot in common and much to share. 

Of course, their fiction thrillers are page-turners, perfect for binging during spooky season. But beyond their printed words, sold on the shelves of bookstores across the country, the two authors are models of ambition and perseverance. 

Their paths show valuable lessons for Grady College students, current, future and past. 

Linda Hurtado Bond

Linda Hurtado Bond signing her newest book All the Broken Girls
Hurtado Bond is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist for Tampa Bay’s Fox 13. (Photo: Submitted)

By day, Hurtado Bond is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist for Tampa Bay’s Fox 13. By night, she’s an author of heart-stopping thrillers, including “Cuba Undercover,” “Alive at 5,” “Flatline” and her newest book, “All the Broken Girls,” which was released in August 2022 and follows a crime reporter who encounters a killing eerily similar to the murder of her mother, an event that happened 10 years prior that she was never able to solve. 

Hurtado Bond has always had a love for fiction, long before she walked through the doors of Grady College. However, she didn’t always see a career as an author as a true possibility. 

“I was the girl in high school always carrying around a notebook and writing down dialogue, trying to write a book,” she said. “It truly was a passion of mine, but I didn’t really think that you could make a career as an author. I don’t know why, but nobody really encouraged me or said ‘that’s an easy path.’”

Now working her dream job in television news and seeing her book next to those of James Patterson on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, “easy” is still not the right word to describe Hurtado Bond’s career, or her path to it. 

Ambition has always run strongly through Hurtado Bond. While studying at Grady, she recalls racing up the hill while carrying a “humongous” camera that she said “almost weighed as much as me” to follow breaking news stories. 

“You guys are lucky, because now you have iPhones,” she said with a smile. 

A heavy lift, either physically or mentally, has never dissuaded Hurtado Bond. Balancing her full-time career in journalism with being a mother of five, Hurtado Bond has still found time to publish four books, and counting. 

“It’s never going away,” said Hurtado Bond of her passion for writing. “You know you’re a writer when it’s never going away.”

Struggling to find enough time in her relentless schedule, Hurtado Bond described her long nights firing away at the keyboard in her home and, recently, spending five days locked up alone in her family’s condo re-writing the back half of “All the Broken Girls.”

When asked if she has any advice for current Grady College students who want to pursue a career writing novels, Hurtado Bond said: “Write, write, write, write, write. Allow yourself to be bad. If you’re a perfectionist, like a lot of writers are, you’ll never finish.”

More information on Hurtado Bond, as well as a complete list of her books, is available on her website

Stacy Willingham

Headshot of Stacy Willingham
Willingham’s first published novel, “A Flicker in the Dark,” made it on the New York Times Best Seller list just weeks after it was released. (Photo: Mary Hannah Harte)

On January 30, 2022, Willingham’s first published novel, “A Flicker in the Dark,” made it on the New York Times Best Seller list, just weeks after it was released. Set in Louisiana, the novel follows the story of a psychologist battling to preserve her happiness after the disappearance of teenage girls reminds her of terrifying events from her childhood. 

“Hitting the list has always been a dream of mine, and having the title of ‘New York Times bestselling author’ is something I can carry with me for the rest of my life,” said Willingham. 

Writing was always the plan, she explained, having composed her first short stories and books as a young child. When she entered high school, Willingham joined the school newspaper and developed an interest in journalism. 

That interest influenced her to major in Magazine Journalism at Grady College. After graduation, she accepted a job in marketing, working as a copywriter, while doing a bit of freelance journalism on the side. But, as always, her passion for long-form fiction continued to pull at her. 

Willingham was only 22 when she made the decision to dedicate her career to writing books. Breaking into the industry, though, is something that she found “very challenging.” 

“It ultimately took me seven years to get an agent and a book deal, and there were many times during those seven years I was tempted to give up,” said Willingham. 

“In the end, it was familiarizing myself with the success stories of other authors that kept me motivated — almost every single one of them has a story about getting rejected and almost giving up before they finally got their break,” she added. “Failure in this business is normal, and honestly, just a part of the process, so I tried to remind myself of that every time I was met with a particularly painful rejection. You just need one person to say yes.”

Willingham noted that learning how to craft a pitch from her professors at Grady College has helped her throughout her career, from pitching freelance articles to magazines to finding a literary agent. 

Inspired by childhood memories of watching “Columbo,” films by Alfred Hitchcock and “The Twilight Zone” with her parents and, as she grew older, studying true crime and the subject of criminal psychology, thrillers have always been Willingham’s genre of choice. Her second book, “All the Dangerous Things,” will be published on January 10, 2023. 

When asked if she has any advice for current Grady College students who want to pursue a career writing novels, Willingham said: “It’s important to read a lot. Figure out which authors inspire you and read their books with a keen eye. Then, once you’ve developed your own plot, work on the book in some regard every single day. That doesn’t mean you have to write every day, but at least think about it. Jot down notes when an idea strikes. Get to know your characters intimately. Remember that first drafts are never perfect. Your manuscript will probably be a hot mess in the beginning, but just getting it down on the page is the hardest part. After that, every round of edits will get you just a little bit closer to the final novel you have in mind.”

More information on Willingham, along with a link to purchase her book, is available on her website

For more alumni authors, visit this page.