Author Charles McNair, top, interviewed former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, bottom, for 20 weeks to create the biography Play It Again, Sam: The Notable Life of Sam Massell published by Mercer University Press.

We asked award-winning writer and novelist Charles McNair to share his memories of working with Sam Massell on his biography, Play It Again, Sam: The Notable Life of Sam Massell – Atlanta’s First Minority Mayor, published by Mercer University Press in 2017.

Massell, who served as the 53rd mayor of Atlanta and was a tireless champion for his beloved Buckhed community, passed away on March 13 at age 94.

McNair –  author of The Epicureans, Pickett’s Charge, and Pulitzer Prize nominee Land O’Goshen – spent two afternoons each week for 20 weeks interviewing Massell for the biography.

McNair sent us this recollection from his home in Bogotá, Colombia, where he now lives and writes.

In 2015-2016, two afternoons a week for 20 weeks, (fastidiously beginning only after Buckhead Coalition business hours ended), Sam and I talked in his Buckhead Place office about his life and times. I honestly wish we’d talked for 20 more weeks, then 20 after that, and on until the day he passed away, early on Sunday morning, peacefully and at home.

Sam was brilliant and funny and accomplished – he seemed to have met everyone in the world at one point or other, and he had a story about every single person. The scrolls that might have been written by historians capturing his adventures as a realtor, politician, travel agent, and association management would be prized Atlanta treasures. I did my best in Play It Again, Sam, the history we wrote, to preserve some of the important stories, but there were so many more to be told.

I’m not sure there’s ever been anyone alive who loved Atlanta, Georgia, more than Sam. The experience of hearing that love expressed during those long, searching afternoon talks will be among my most special memories as a writer.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.