When I was in Detroit for a Fighters & Writers reading, someone asked me how I became interested in boxing. I’d just read portions of an essay about the often-overlooked positive aspects of the sport, but the person wanted a more personal explanation. I talked a bit about Joe Louis, who learned to box in the city where I grew up and who is commemorated with sculptures and a sporting arena there. I knew Louis’s name since childhood, and in some mysterious way that influenced writing I would do as an adult, I explained.
I made use of that unplanned reflection in “So Long, Joe,” an essay about the fighter that Americana: The Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture published in its Magazine Americana.
In the piece, I don’t just express my own thoughts about Louis. I also survey some of the many books about him, such as biographies by Chris Mead, Barney Nagler and Randy Roberts, among others. (Roberts also authored a book about Jack Johnson that came in handy when I was preparing my talk about Johnson’s fight with Jim Jeffries in Reno.)