Posted in Fighters & Writers, tagged Fighters & Writers, Golden Gloves, Harlot’s Ghost, José Torres, Light Heavyweight Champion, Middleweight champion, Mongrel Empire Press, Norman, Norman Mailer, Oklahoma, Pete Hamill, Tabloid City, Why Are We in Vietnam? on November 4, 2012 |
Leave a Comment »
Since Mongrel Empire Press published Fighters & Writers in 2010, I’ve come across a couple unexpected references to Norman, Oklahoma – the publisher’s base – in novels (by writers interested in fighters, as it happens). In Harlot’s Ghost Norman Mailer gives the narrator’s wife a professional rival from the city. In Tabloid City Pete Hamill has a damaged Iraq war veteran hail from the same town.
Both Mailer and Hamill were friends of José Torres, and they both dedicated books to the boxer. (I dedicated Fighters & Writers to Torres well after Mailer wrote Why Are We in Vietnam? but before Hamill’s Tabloid City came out in 2011). Hamill not only pledges Tabloid City to the memory of the former light heavyweight champion; he also describes a character donning “a robe from the 1957 Golden Gloves tournament, where his friend José won the middleweight championship.” (Torres was indeed a Golden Gloves champ, but in 1958… Artistic license on Hamill’s part, I guess.)
Read Full Post »
Posted in Events, Fighters & Writers, tagged Ada, Arkansas, Arkansas Literary Festival, Cannibals and Christians, Carry the Rock, Charles Portis, Fighters & Writers. Literary festivals, Indie Memphis, Jay Jennings, José Torres, Little Rock, Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock Nine, Maidstone, McAlester, Mosaic Templers Cultural Center, National Park Service, Norman Mailer, Oak Hills Country Club, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Paul Austin, Rilla Askew, Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Spirit Trickey, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodea, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, True Grit on April 11, 2011 |
Leave a Comment »
Once or twice before on this site, I’ve recorded what struck me as curious, almost uncanny coincidences. While I assign no special meaning to such occurrences and discern nothing supernatural in them, I do find them intriguing. A couple more happened in connection with book festivals.
The first thing my wife and I did when we reached Little Rock was drive to Central High School, site of the Little Rock Nine’s brave challenge to racially segregated schooling in 1957. In the visitor center at the National Historic Site, we started talking with a Park Service employee who not only was planning to attend the poetry slam organized as part of the opening night of the Arkansas Literary Festival but who was also slated to moderate a conversation a couple of days later. (We did see Spirit Trickey during the Spoken Word Live! competition at the Mosaic Templers Cultural Center, but weren’t able to attend her talk with Jay Jennings about his book Carry the Rock.)
Often, it seems, Norman Mailer factors in these synchronous episodes. (Coincidences fascinated the novelist, even if he didn’t actually like them. “If psychic coincidences give pleasure to some, I do not know if they give them [sic] to me,” he writes in Cannibals and Christians, while the narrator of his Tough Guys Don’t Dance reminds himself that “not all coincidence was diabolical or divine.”) A week before we met Spirit in Arkansas, we met Paul Austin in Oklahoma. At the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival authors’ reception at the Oak Hills Country Club, Austin told me about time he spent with Mailer and José Torres, both of whom figure prominently in Fighters & Writers, including one of the passages I’d planned to read during the festival. (Austin worked on Mailer’s movie Maidstone.)
With Paul Austin at East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma, April 2, 2011
When she learned of our intention to drive from Ada to Little Rock, Austin’s wife, novelist Rilla Askew, wrote out directions to various sites that factor in True Grit, whose author, Charles Portis, turned out to be the subject of a panel discussion we did attend at the Arkansas Literary Festival (one led by Jay Jennings, in fact). The route we ultimately took involved a stop in a town with another cinematic connection, McAlester, the location of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, which we drove past and which a few years earlier staged the contests chronicled in the documentary Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, which we’d seen at the Indie Memphis film festival.
Prison Rodeo Statue, McAlester, Oklahoma
Read Full Post »
I dedicated Fighters & Writers to José Torres (1936-2009), the world light heavyweight boxing champion from 1965 to1966 who later co-authored a book about Muhammad Ali and wrote a biography about Mike Tyson. In the title essay, I recount meeting and talking with the International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee. The piece first appeared in The Mailer Review. Though the essay was written prior to Norman Mailer’s death, the issue of the journal carrying it came out soon after – and immediately before his friend José died.
Mailer (1923-2007) also dedicated a book – 1967’s Why Are We in Vietnam? – to José. (Mailer, of course, wrote quite a lot about boxing, which means he comes up several times in Fighters & Writers). Mailer also writes (in the third person) about him in Miami and the Siege of Chicago when he explains his decision to leave the scene of police attacking antiwar protesters outside the 1968 Democratic convention: “And he had a legitimate excuse for leaving. One of his best friends was with him, a professional boxer, once a champion. If the police ever touched him, the boxer would probably be unable to keep himself from taking out six or eight men. The police would then come near to killing the boxer in return. It was a real possibility. He had a responsibility to get his friend out of there, and did…” Though Mailer doesn’t mention the fighter’s name, José told me the story of being in Chicago with Mailer. I remember him expressing gratitude for Mailer’s protectiveness.
Mailer’s wife Norris Church Mailer nicely captures José’s generosity, good humor and effect on others in A Ticket to the Circus (2010): “No one could laugh like José. He slapped his knee and fell off his chair laughing, which made everyone else laugh, too. I will always have a soft spot for José, who has now passed over like so many of our old friends, bless him. He was the kind of friend who would pick up dinner and visit a person he hardly knew, just because his friend asked him to.” I don’t claim to have known José very well, but I also developed a similar fondness for him.
Fighters & Writers contains several photographs, and I toyed with the idea of including this picture of José and me, which was taken at his apartment in Manhattan in 2002. I subsequently lost a great of weight (and I write about the process and the use of boxing weight classes as a frame of reference in an essay, also in Fighters & Writers, that first ran in Blood & Thunder). I decided to leave the unflattering photo out of the book, but it does bring back some nice memories.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Fighters & Writers, tagged A.J. Liebling, Albert Camus, Boxing, Christopher Hitchens, Darin Strauss, David Remnick, George Foreman, George Orwell, George Plimpton, Henry Rollins, Ian McEwan, James Braddock, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis, John McCain, José Torres, Joyce Carol Oates, Larry Holmes, Martin Amis, Max Baer, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Norman Mailer, Oscar Wilde, Philip Roth, W.C. Heinz on May 21, 2010 |
Leave a Comment »
As I write this post, Fighters & Writers is at the printer. Here’s a bit of background on my forthcoming book.
Fighters & Writers is neither a traditional sports book nor a conventional collection of literary essays. It blends literary criticism, journalism and memoir and considers both the lively body of literature directly related to boxing and the ways the sport relates to writers not usually identified with it.
Essays in Fighters & Writers discuss works about boxing by authors such as Albert Camus, W.C. Heinz, A.J. Liebling, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, Philip Roth, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Darin Strauss and José Torres – a boxing champion who became a writer – as well as the cultural impact made by boxers like Muhammad Ali, Max Baer, James Braddock, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson. Rodwan also considers the sport in connection with figures such as Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, John McCain, Ian McEwan, George Orwell, Henry Rollins and Oscar Wilde.
The title essay surveys a selection of the mammoth body of literature involving boxing in addition to writing on closely related topics such as confidence games. “The Ali Act” considers writers’ undiminished interest in one extraordinary boxer. “The Fighting Life” looks at two prominent writers’ use of boxing in their fiction. “A First-Class Sport” assesses boxing’s frequently overlooked positive aspects by examining the memoirs and autobiographies of several boxing enthusiasts, including a former heavyweight champion, a well-known trainer and television analyst, and prominent public figures including a former president and a U.S. senator. Other pieces in the collection explore how boxing inserts itself in writers’ imaginations even when they write about other subjects. Essays on diverse topics such as book dedications, Orwell’s Spanish Civil War memories, digressions, tattoos and weight loss reveal the close, if not always recognized, connections between fighters and writers.
Carlo Rotella, author of Cut Time: An Education at the Fights, called Fighters & Writers “a spirited and far-ranging meditation on boxing that’s also a thoughtful inquiry into the relationship between the writer’s craft and the fighter’s.”
Read Full Post »