Alex Haley spent 20 years researching Queen, his companion to Roots, compiling a 700-page outline in the process. But he never got around to writing the book. When he died in February 1992, that task fell to British screenwriter David Stevens, who scripted last February’s Queen miniseries for CBS.
”I was actually surprised that Haley chose me,” says Stevens from his home in Acapulco, Mexico. ”I wasn’t American. I wasn’t black.” But the two men hit it off when they met three years ago to discuss transplanting Alex Haley’s Queen (the book’s official title) to the screen. ”He had that outline and all his notes,” says Stevens, ”but no book. Haley was a hard man to pin down. There was always a little more research that needed doing.”
Without a text to work from, Stevens learned Queen’s story from Haley himself. ”He gave me a crash course in African-American culture,” says Stevens. ”We went on a tour of the South.” The two even took a banana boat to Ecuador and back to get some work done. ”Alex loved cargo boats, and so did I,” says Stevens. ”There was nothing to do but talk, write, sleep, and eat. Actually Alex got very interested in bananas on that trip. He wanted to write an article about them. I don’t know if he ever did.” (He didn’t.)
They rarely discussed plot details, which may explain why the book’s publisher is billing Queen as fiction. ”We talked about historical background, contemporary attitudes, areas where the story takes place,” Stevens says.
”Alex had the gift of gab, he had the blarney — not surprising, given his Irish blood,” Stevens says. (Haley’s great-great-grandfather was Irish.) ”I remember once we were in the car together, and Alex started to tell me the story of the man who wrote the hymn ”Amazing Grace.” He took an hour to tell the story, his voice like dark honey, and when he finished there were tears in my eyes. He was really one of the great storytellers of this century.”