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Archive for July, 2013

Those in the know have long recognized the rich literary raw material in Jack Johnson’s life story in particular and in boxing generally. Mining this vein, however, risks alienating potential readers ignorant of or averse to the sport. That’s their loss, one might say, accurately enough. It’s a loss, because readers might miss fine, insightful, moving, shocking, revealing, intelligent and stylish writing because of prejudices about the purported subject. If the writing is any good, it shouldn’t matter if the reader previously gave a damn about pugilism or even disliked it thoroughly.

It’s a loss for writers too, who could end up unread because of associations with a marginal or unpopular topic. It could happen to Adrian Matejka, for instance. The drawing of Johnson in trunks and gloves on the cover of The Big Smoke could cause many timorous poetry consumers to look elsewhere. (I suspect something similar happened with my Fighter’s & Writers, which at least some people mistook for a sports book, despite the second half of the title…) By becoming the first black heavyweight champion of the world in the early twentieth century, and by flouting all conventions relating to interracial sexual relationships, Johnson challenged mores in multiple ways and exposed racism in its rawest form. He overcame adversity only to confront more adversity. Heroics and humiliation always intertwined. In his personal life, he could be a brute and a heel. Matejka imaginatively explores these aspects of Johnson’s biography and persona in his brisk poems. One can and should appreciate them regardless of his or her attitude toward boxing.

Big Smoke

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Anca Vlasopolos is author of The New Bedford Samurai, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and No Return Address: A Memoir of Displacement, which won the YMCA Writer’s Voice Grant for Creative Non-Fiction, and several other books. I’ve had the privilege of reading at a couple of events with her. Here’s what she had to say about my next book, which Humanist Press is publishing in the fall:

“In Holidays and Other Disasters, Rodwan dissects, with wit and verve, the human predilection for faith in a deity. Meditating on the religious rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. or on Salman Rushdie’s personal recuperation of Valentine’s Day, Rodwan faces his own disaffection with religion as well as with compulsory societal celebrations. Believers and non-believers alike will be entertained and enlightened by Rodwan’s engaging prose and probing intellect.”

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Joey Brown, professor of English at Missouri Southern State University and author of the poetry collection Oklahomaography, said this about my upcoming book:

“I’ve just finished reading Holidays and Other Disasters, the new essay collection by John G. Rodwan, Jr. At times funny, at others seriously contemplative, this collection prompts us to reflect on why we celebrate what we celebrate—even if we would celebrate were we to know all there is to know of the histories of American holidays. Rodwan smartly ties together the many ways rituals pervade our lives, be it through our listening to gospel music, trimming Christmas trees, marking Opening Day of baseball season, or his own father’s homage to Halloween. Like me, you probably know at least a few people who would be offended by this book; thus I can think of no better recommendation for reading it.”

I love that last sentence!

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