As a child growing up on the north side of Columbus, award-winning journalist and author Wil Haygood spent his days exploring the two miles that stretched between his house and the Olentangy River dam.

As a child growing up on the north side of Columbus, award-winning journalist and author Wil Haygood spent his days exploring the two miles that stretched between his house and the Olentangy River dam.

"In a lot of my childhood, I was a loner, a walker and a fisherman," said Haygood, who will speak about his latest book, "Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America," at Ohio Dominican University on Wednesday, Feb. 24. One afternoon in the mid-1960s, when he was around 13 years old, he grabbed his fishing poles and headed to his favorite spot, where he became lost in thought. For hours.

"Usually I had a sense of timing about how long it would take me to get home before it got dark," he said, but this time, "I stayed out too late and as I walked back home and came to my street, there were police cars and flashing lights, and I was saying to myself, 'What in the world has happened on my street?' There were about four officers on the porch and they were getting ready to stage a search party for me. They were worried that I had fallen into the river or gotten lost, or that something had happened to me. Of course, I was scolded by my family members. But I was an adventurer - a little kid who was fearless."

Over time, many children lose that sense of curiosity and fearlessness, but Haygood never did.

"I've always been one to look for answers, and I've always been one who is attracted to characters and stories about cities, people and places," he explained. "I've always been very curious about the life in the world around me."

It's that curiosity that led Haygood to the story that would make him famous - that of longtime White House butler Eugene Allen - who he profiled in a 2008 Washington Post article. That story served as the basis for the 2013 movie "The Butler."

But his "inquiry," he said, is firmly "rooted in how I grew up - and where I grew up."

In 1968, Haygood moved with family to the east side of town into a new government housing project in the King-Lincoln District, near Mount Vernon Avenue. Mount Vernon Avenue was long considered a cultural and business hub for Columbus' African American community, but things were changing. Haygood recalled witnessing riots on the street and military tanks trying to corral people in his housing project - an extension, he said, of what began in the American South during the Civil Rights movement of the early-to-mid 1960s.

When others around him got caught up in the violence of the streets, Haygood turned inward, realizing that the best way to process what was happening around him was through writing.

"When I got a pen, it became a spear for me. A spear with a light on the end of it," he said.

Haywood's journalism career has taken him all over the world - from South Africa and India to Germany and Somalia. He's covered civil wars, met world leaders, and, in his spare time, written five nonfiction books, including biographies on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Though he had long dreamed of writing books, Haygood said that advice from one of his heroes, the late author James Baldwin, gave him the impetus to pursue that passion. While interviewing Baldwin in the late 1970s for a Boston Globe story, Haygood asked him if he thought he could also write books one day.

"He looked at me, squinted his eyes, and said, 'Oh baby, I have no idea.' That wasn't what I wanted him to say," Haygood said, with a laugh. "I wanted him to say, 'Of course!' But after some silence, Baldwin said this: 'In life, you have to go the way your blood beats.'"