Where were you the day John F. Kennedy was shot? Imagine being a cub reporter at UPI’s Dallas office, sent out to answer the terrible question: Is the president alive or dead? Author Wilborn Hampton was that reporter, and the events of that day would change the course of his life.
Born and raised in Dallas, Wilborn Hampton had just graduated with a BA in English literature from the University of Texas and planned to pursue a career in theater and literature. Covering the assassination, however, made him decide to become a journalist. “There was something exhilarating about being right in the eye of such a tornado of history. It was both horrible and exciting,” he says. “I did go on to become a foreign correspondent, and I covered three different wars in the Middle East and a lot of other page-one banner headline stories. But nothing ever came close to what I felt that day in Dallas, just two months out of college, on my first job.”
Now an editor at the New York Times, Wilborn Hampton has drawn on his rare “I was there” insight to take young readers to the heart of some of the twentieth-century’s most world-changing events. “An entire generation that was not even born when those shots were fired has now reached adulthood,” he says of his reasons for writing Kennedy Assassinated! The World Mourns. “It seemed time for me to attempt to put on paper, from my limited view in the eye of the swirl of history, what a sense of loss that day brought to those of us who were then young adults.” The author’s second book with Candlewick Press, Meltdown: A Race Against Nuclear Disaster at Three Mile Island, is a suspenseful hour-by-hour, behind-the-scenes account of the worst nuclear power accident in the United States, thirty-four years after the bombing of Hiroshima. “As future scientists search for a replacement for oil and coal, they must be aware of the inherent dangers of atomic energy,” Wilborn Hampton says. Wilborn Hampton also gives young readers a reporter’s-eye view of the Middle East conflict with War in the Middle East: A Reporter’s Story: Black September and the Yom Kippur War.
Wilborn Hampton’s third book with Candlewick Press, September 11, 2001: Attack on New York City, may well have been his most difficult. The author recalls that he was preparing to go to work that morning when two hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York City. He undertook to write the story of that awful day because he felt that “no single event since the attack on Pearl Harbor has so traumatized and galvanized the American people as the attacks on September 11. It seemed important, especially for younger readers who may have questions in years to come about what happened, to try to put on paper an account of what took place in New York City that day. And the only way to begin to understand the horror of what occurred on September 11 was to recount it through the eyes of those who experienced it firsthand.”
Wilborn Hampton and his wife, a book editor, live in New York City.