Reading Matters

Gastonia folk singer also worked on Haley bio

A long overdue biography of Alex Haley (“Alex Haley: And the Books that Changed a Nation,” by Robert J. Norrell) has been dubbed “sympathetic,” but criticized for not taking us “very close to Haley the man.”

Too bad Gastonia’s Anne Romaine died before she completed the biography she’d been working on for 10 years. She’d gotten close to Haley, and her interviews with him, and those who knew him, were nothing if not personal.

Romaine, whom I knew, was curious about people’s emotional lives, and she didn’t hesitate to ask probing questions. A gifted folk singer, with a master’s degree from the University of Virginia, she met Haley in 1986 at the Alex Haley Museum in Tennessee. He immediately commissioned her to write his official biography, which perplexed those close to him. As Adam Henig asks in a recent blog: “With access to the best-known writers, why would the Pulitzer Prize-winning author select a singer to pen his life?”

My guess: Haley found Romaine’s intense, personal interest hard to resist.

In 1995, Romaine died suddenly in Gastonia of a ruptured appendix. She was almost 53 and, at last, on the brink of financial security. She’d been invited to teach in England the following year, where she planned to complete her Ph.D., and her biography of the man she said had been in love with her for a long time.