‘Paperboy’ is the real Vince Vawter story

Marvin Westwestwords

Vince Vawter spent 40 years in the newspaper business. I contributed. I invited him to move from the closing Memphis Press-Scimitar to Knoxville.

It was self-defense.

He made a wonderful difference in my time as managing editor of the News-Sentinel. He knew how to do what I was trying to do.

Vince stayed 10 years and eventually moved on to the Evansville Courier and Press. He retired as editor, publisher and president. Three titles for one guy was Scripps-Howard’s way of stretching dollars.

After that, he and Betty returned to the Knoxville area, to a little farm in Louisville, and he reaffirmed what he was originally, a writer. His first novel was “Paperboy.”

The book has only one character, Mr. Spiro, not from real-life experiences of growing up in Memphis in the 1950s. Stuttering made it tougher.

“Paperboy” took five years of go-stop-go labor. It hit big. It won a Newbery Honor. It has been translated into 16 languages. If you are in dire need and you know Vince, I believe he could scrape up a spare $20.

“Paperboy” is in its 11th printing in the United States and is flourishing in such exciting countries as China, Japan and Germany.


It is moving on up. In New York, it is now a musical at Manhattan School of Music. Vince was there for four performances. He said it took a while to get his feet back on the ground.

“I have many wonderful memories. I’ll share just one. Stan Petree, my cousin Caroline’s husband, tapped me on the shoulder before the matinee on March 25 and asked: ‘Isn’t that Steve Young standing there near the stage?’

“Steve Young?”

“You know, Steve Young, the quarterback who won three Super Bowls.”

“I looked more closely. He did look like the commentator I had seen most recently on ESPN.

“I think you’re right. Let’s go see.”

“Are you Steve Young?”

“Yes, I am.”

Young was smiling.

“I then heard these words spill out of my mouth with a clumsiness unusual even for me: ‘So, what are you doing here?’”

Another big smile from Steve Young.

“My son, Braedon, is playing the part of the Paperboy’s father.”

“Well, I’m the real Paperboy. I mean I’m the guy who wrote the book.”


Vince Vawter has been everywhere, visiting with groups that are or might be interested in the book.

At one stop, he was asked the significance of the title.

At age 11, “Victor Vollmer III” was the one-month substitute paper boy for a young friend, Rat, who went to visit his grandparents. Victor was stunned by his discoveries. Segregation in Memphis was an object lesson.

The lad was forced to communicate with the different customers, including Mrs. Worthington, a housewife who drinks too much, and a retired merchant marine, a source of considerable wisdom.

Stuttering added challenges but it was a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, Ara T., a bully and thief, that stirred up real trouble – and put the boy’s life in danger. It was enough to cause Victor Vollmer III to begin to wonder what it means to have a soul.


The author was asked why stuttering is a central theme in “Paperboy.”

“Easy answer – because it has been a central theme in my life.”

Vince once passed out while trying to say his name. He got embarrassed at a fancy restaurant and lost his spaghetti dinner in front of everybody. The stuttering in his book is certainly not fiction.

I think he does not stutter any more.

“Fluency to me means saying anything you want to say at any time you want to say it. By that definition, I am fluent.”


He was asked where to from here?

My answer: Maybe Broadway, maybe a movie. Do read the book. It is sold as if written for youngsters. That was a surprise. Vawter thought he was telling his story for people.

His agent and the publisher just had to have a sequel. His second book is “Copyboy.” It is more fictional in nature, but he did begin his newspaper career at 17, at that bottom job.

Vawter is a Memphis native. He played baseball for a year at LSU and two years back home, at Rhodes College.

Vince really wanted to be a professional player. When he realized he might not make the major leagues, he pursued sports writing, then more serious journalism, first at Memphis State, then the University of Tennessee.

He is hall of fame in that field.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].


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