Writing Alumnus Matthew van Meter '16 Releases Debut Book 'Deep Delta Justice'

Audrey Deng
July 30, 2020

Deep Delta Justice, debut book by alumnus Matthew van Meter ’16, is a nonfiction retelling of the critical court case in mid-20th century Louisiana that changed American law: Duncan v. Louisiana. This case—spoiler alert—changed American law for the better, for the most part. The full title of the book is Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer, and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South, and it’s out this week through Little Brown.

“In 1966 in a small town in Louisiana, a 19-year-old black man named Gary Duncan pulled his car off the road to stop a fight. Duncan was arrested a few minutes later for the crime of putting his hand on the arm of a white child. Rather than accepting his fate, Duncan found Richard Sobol, a brilliant, 29-year-old lawyer from New York who was the only white attorney at ‘the most radical law firm’ in New Orleans. Against them stood one of the most powerful white supremacists in the South, a man called simply ‘The Judge,’” according to the book’s synopsis.

book cover title and a small city in the background

In an interview with Publishers Weekly earlier this year, van Meter said, “I was taking a criminal procedure class at Columbia Law School and when we got to the right to jury trials, the professor told a version of the story of Duncan v. Louisiana, the case the book is based on. I went online to see who wrote the book about it, but it wasn’t on Amazon, or in the Columbia library—there was no book. That day I knew what I was going to do. That was almost exactly five years ago.”

The book has received praise for its character-driven narrative and extensive research and especially for its timeliness. Library Journal’s starred review called Deep Delta Justice “a seminal work of impeccable scholarship." Publishers Weekly said, "Excellent debut...readers will be struck by how many of the issues involved-voter suppression, public funding for private schools, racial inequalities in the criminal justice system-are still being legislated today."

An excerpt from Deep Delta Justice is available to read on Little Brown’s website. The book is also now available for purchase on Bookshop.org.