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This month marks the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington. A new book about the speech comes from an unlikely author, 30-year-old Drew Hansen, who was not yet born when King delivered his speech on August 28, 1963. Hansen, a second-year litigation associate in the Seattle office of Houston’s Susman Godfrey, began “The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation,” while a second-year at Yale Law School. The idea germinated with a paper Hansen wrote in a class on the civil rights movement. Hansen noticed that few in his age group, himself included, had a good grasp of the era. “The only thing people were aware of from my generation was the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” says Hansen. “I set out to write a book that was an homage to what Dr. King had done in that speech.” The result is a 293-page book that is part literary explication, part historical analysis. “The Dream” chronicles King’s painstaking preparations for the speech, followed by the extemporaneous oration he ultimately gave, when King improvised the famous ending of the address, a vision for racial harmony in the U.S. A self-described evangelical Christian, Hansen dissects the religious language in the speech, and examines its impact on civil rights in America, both then and now. To research the book, Hansen spent a summer in law school sifting through King’s sermons, manuscripts, and letters at the King Center library in Atlanta and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. He interviewed civil rights era figures, including former movement leaders John Lewis and Dorothy Cotton. In an independent study project as a 3L, Hansen cobbled together an early version of his manuscript. “I thought he was onto something as large enough and important enough as a book,” says Yale professor Owen Fiss, who oversaw Hansen’s research. Hansen says he was inspired by Garry Wills’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America,” which dissects Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In 2002, two years after his law school graduation, Hansen sold his manuscript to HarperCollins Publishers Inc.; it is now available in bookstores nationwide. Hansen’s resume reads more like that of a classic overachiever than a do-gooder. He received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a degree in theology from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar, and a law degree from Yale. After law school, he completed a judicial clerkship on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. At Susman Godfrey, a 65-attorney litigation boutique, Hansen handles commercial litigation. This year he worked primarily on a large antitrust case, participating in a four-month trial in Anchorage representing salmon fishermen in a price-fixing suit against seafood processing companies. (Susman Godfrey lost the case.) “He has an incredible future as a trial lawyer,” says Parker Folse III, the head of the eight-attorney Seattle office who watched Hansen in the courtroom. Folse, who had not yet read “The Dream” by presstime, says that he and his colleagues preordered “a jillion” copies of the book. At the end of this month, Hansen will go to Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York on a tour to promote his book. But a lawyer’s work never ceases — after Hansen’s brush with media celebrity, he will return to writing drafts of posttrial motions.

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