Elliott and David Maraniss

David Maraniss, acclaimed author and Washington Post editor, created a scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to honor his father Elliott. The charitable arm of The Capital Times just added to it.

The history of The Capital Times begins, of course, with William T. Evjue, who launched the newspaper in 1917 as a voice of the Progressive movement, but his is not the only prominent name in our history.

Forty years later, Evjue brought Elliott Maraniss to town. Maraniss eventually became top editor at the Cap Times, a job he performed brilliantly, as my colleague and editor emeritus Dave Zweifel, who joined the paper five years after Maraniss, can attest.

Maraniss and his wife Mary had four children. When they moved to Madison, son David was 8. David, as many know, became an acclaimed journalist and author, a Pulitzer Prize winner and respected Washington Post editor.

One of David’s many books tells the story of how his father was tormented for alleged un-American behavior during the era of Joseph McCarthy, Wisconsin’s infamous U.S. senator and demagogue. Evjue saved his family by hiring his father.

“Five years, five cities, four kids, eight homes, two papers that fired him, three papers that folded,” was the way David described their journey that culminated in Madison. David’s book is titled, “A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father.”

In his book, David described how it happened. “Evjue’s ‘Hello Wisconsin’ column appeared in a labor paper in northeastern Iowa where Elliott worked until it folded,” David wrote. “Elliott wrote to Evjue and was invited to Madison, to the old newspaper building on South Carroll Street near the state Capitol. Elliott was hired on the spot, at $114 per week.”

Jump ahead 65 years to this week, when the board of the Evjue Foundation, The Capital Times’ charitable arm created by Evjue’s will, approved a multiyear grant totaling $62,500 to add funding to a journalism scholarship program named for Elliott Maraniss at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Here’s what David wrote in an email to me after the grant was approved:

“After the UW granted me an honorary doctor of letters degree in 2014, I decided to set up the scholarship at the school to honor my dad, who taught me everything I know about reporting and writing and instilled in me a deep desire to help underdogs with a commitment to racial and gender justice,” David wrote.

“The scholarship is intended to further that commitment, providing financial aid to people of color and women for graduate studies in journalism.

“As you know, Elliott was instrumental in diversifying the Cap Times newsroom, and I thought it would make sense to extend his legacy to the university that also played a central role in our family’s life in Madison. The fact that the scholarship connects the school with the Cap Times — which brings in the Maraniss scholars for summer internships — makes it especially meaningful. We can’t thank the Evjue Foundation enough for such generosity.”

Generous is also a good word to describe how David Maraniss continues to support his father’s newspaper as a visionary and organizer for Cap Times Idea Fest, the thought festival we launched in 2017.

David has invited and moderated conversations with prominent national journalists and political figures. In 2017, that was Marty Baron, then the top editor of the Washington Post. The next year featured David Axelrod, the prominent Obama campaign strategist. In 2019, David brought a trio of star Post journalists — Carol Leonnig, Alexandra Petri and Catherine Rampell. In 2020 he hosted friend and Post colleague Bob Woodward. And in 2021 he brought Jane Mayer, author and writer for the New Yorker. And each year, he has brought other outstanding speakers.

More than once, as I thanked his invitees backstage for coming, they explained what David meant to them as a coach, mentor and friend.

His involvement gave Idea Fest instant stature. While the event has evolved and consistently attracts notable local and regional speakers, Maraniss elevated it from the start.

Idea Fest is important for The Capital Times, not only because it provides a forum for civil and unpredictable conversations in turbulent times, but because it financially supports the newspaper’s journalism. We’re immersed in planning this fall’s fest, which will be Sept. 14 to 17, and it is assured, with David’s continued help, that its programming will be stellar.

In celebrating the Maraniss connection, I want to note that the family suffered a huge loss this year with the death of David’s older brother Jim. Jim was a professor of Spanish and European studies at Amherst College and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for a libretto he wrote for an opera. Like David, Jim also wrote for The Capital Times as a young man. (Imagine, siblings from the same Madison home both winning Pulitzers.)

The same day the Evjue Board approved the Maraniss grant, a review copy of David’s latest book arrived. It is another in a series of definitive biographies, this one about Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete, titled, “Path Lit by Lightning.” Maraniss is a master at the deeply researched biography, having written books on Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Vince Lombardi and the baseball star Roberto Clemente.

In his foreword, Maraniss calls Thorpe a “foundation story of American sports.” Born in 1887, Thorpe was a quintessential underdog who rose from obscurity to become the greatest athlete in the world, yet struggled throughout life to overcome stereotypes and even to feed his family.

Such complex and nuanced struggles have drawn Maraniss to many subjects. His book will be published in August, and you can look forward to hearing him talk about it at Idea Fest.

So, as I see it, Evjue’s decision to hire Elliott Maraniss in 1957 still resonates in 2022 for The Capital Times … and for Madison.

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