KET documentary explores life of Ky. author behind 'The Queen's Gambit'

Posted at 1:27 PM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 18:33:27-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — If you didn’t know the name Walter Tevis before 2020, one of last year’s most popular TV shows might have changed that.

He’s the Kentucky writer behind "The Queen’s Gambit," and KET is exploring his life with a new documentary set to premiere this month.

“Why are we learning more about Walter Tevis now? 'The Queen's Gambit,'” said Tom Thurman, the producer and director of the film. “There's nothing like having a novel translated into an enormously popular television series, on an enormously popular platform like Netflix."

"The Queen’s Gambit" captured America’s attention and put Lexington in the spotlight, with references to New Circle Road and yes, even LEX 18.

The book behind the series was based on some of Tevis’ own life experiences, including time spent at a convalescent home as a child, and alcohol addiction.

“Of course when you watch 'The Queen’s Gambit,' he’s taking his biography and translating it into his work,” Thurman said.

Those personal connections helped turn some of Tevis’ books into major movies with stars like Paul Newman, but his life was complicated. Beyond his sobriety, he also struggled with writer’s block.

“There was a 17-year drought where he did not publish a novel, and it’s a really tragic part of his story,” Thurman said. “A lot of writers, a lot of artists, never come back from that. But he did.”

Thurman said interviews with Tevis’ children revealed he was a great father, colleague, and educator, even while facing his own challenges. The author died at 56 years old and is buried in Richmond, Ky. He published many of his most popular books in the last years of his life, including "The Queen’s Gambit" in 1983.

KET’s documentary is called "Walter Tevis: A Writer’s Gambit." It airs July 13 and July 15. You can find out how to watch it here.

There will also be a preview of the film on July 8, at the 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Lexington. The event will feature a tour of the Harmon Room, named for Beth Harmon, the main character in "The Queen's Gambit."