Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Forget CanLit, SportsLit Is Where It’s At

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Next to The Real Housewives of Atlanta repeats, the sports world provides the best unscripted drama out there, filled with plotlines that not even the finest DWM CanLit author could have ever cooked up. Tiger Woods had romantic dalliances and trysts with how many hotties (and it all went unnoticed by deer-in-headlights Elin)?

After watching an ESPN documentary on Marcus Dupree, the best running back that never was, I believe I have a great sports-related book project in me. The 50-word version of Dupree’s life goes like this: preternaturally fast and strong running back from a city (Philadelphia, Mississippi) with a questionable race-relations history fails to live up to hype, gets pimped out of millions by a shady Reverend who is there to represent his interests and seeks redemption to fulfill his promise to his mother and his cerebral-palsy-affected brother.

A total tear jerker. But not in a tears of a clown kinda way, where you’re plunking down $100 to watch the hapless Leafs, who haven’t made the playoffs since Jesus and haven't made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in like 43 years. More along the lines of, there’s no piece of new fiction, poetry, prose or non-fiction I’ve read in recent years that has elicited this kind of emotional reaction from its audience. Okay, so maybe The Imperfectionists was equally hot (hey, I’ve worked in those same newsrooms, then for a failed dot com that was set to replace “the newspaper” as we knew it…).

Interestingly, a number of years ago, I wanted to tell the story of Toronto-bred NBA b-baller Jamaal Magloire in book form, because I think I could’ve told it best. Then some lawyer dude penned an unauthorized job, and that was that, I moved on. Y’see, I had just completed an authorized autobiography of one of MuchMusic’s most celebrated VJ’s not named Strombo, Master T and I was ready to sink my teeth into another profound subject (i.e. next to no Torontonians ever make it to the big leagues). I had all of the chapters plotted out. I spoke briefly to Magloire’s personal trainer Simeon Mars. The stars weren’t aligned.

Part of my Sunday ritual is to stay glued to the boob tube to watch back-to-back sports talk shows, The Sports Reporters, and the much less interesting, diverse, gender-balanced Canadian version, The Reporters.

During this ritual, even my 11- and 5-year-old know not to engage me in any form of conversation, because it might go virtually ignored. I don’t even really watch TV, so for this one hour a week, all advance Ritz crackers and pizza lunch requests go to wifey.

I contemplate this as I consider the state of sports books in this country. For every bookish event I go to, and that’s plenty, I get the sense that there is an unspoken silo that goes up along genre lines, and that the world of sports, and the literature that it spews, are not really considered integral reads by the literati, though I have no clue as to why.

A buddy of mine who used to work at that failed start-up dot com with me, tells me he will be attending The 28th Annual Conference of the Sport Literature Association which will be held in late June at the University of Maine.

Pardon my own ignorance, but I am not even sure if this kind of SportsLit fervor exists in my home and native land. Like, the Sports Literature Association is not some fringe org. supported by obese, balding guys who drink pints of brew like H20 and paint their torsos and faces with the colors of their home team two nights a week. It’s actually an affiliate of the American Literature Association. All I know is that there’s a disproportionate number of books written here about hockey, and the Maple Laffs. Go to any bookstore and do a quick scan. All this, despite the fact that the Leafs are perpetual NHL bottom feeders.

Don’t even get me started on Toronto FC. They upped ticket prices, haven’t made the playoffs since they’ve been in existence and shipped away their best player Dwayne DeRosario (who I might add, was one of the few athletes I interviewed in my last book, Fatherhood 4.0).

That’s right, sitting right there on my bookshelf alongside time honored literary treasures from Søren Kierkegaard and Ralph Ellison, lie sporting and hockey books. The Leafs do bite (did I fail to mention this), but I used to play competitive hockey and once even played at Toronto Maple Leafs Gardens, an aged arena who last I heard was about to be converted into a Loblaws and sports facility. Way to go City of Toronto, we sure do know how to upkeep and preserve historical buildings (Bob Marley played there yo’!).

For any readers out there looking for great SportsLit that cuts across sports lines and appeals to non-jockish types as enduring pieces of pop culture pap because of their human interest story arcs, check out They Call Me Chief, which tells the fascinating stories of Aboriginal athletes who overcame tremendous obstacles to star in the National Hockey League (I was stoked when Fred Sasakamoose, the first Aboriginal male to play in the NHL and who overcame the abuse of Canada’s residential school system signed my copy). Or Breaking the Ice by Cecil Harris, which tells the unique stories of black hockey players - how they overcame or succumbed to racial and cultural prejudices to play our country’s favorite pastime.

Is Chris Bosh the “Rupaul of big men”? Only time will tell….

Dalton Higgins is a music programmer, pop culture critic, author, broadcaster and national magazine award-winning journalist. He is Canada’s foremost expert on hip hop culture. In addition to writing numerous articles for Canadian and US print and on-line magazines, he is the author of Hip Hop World (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi) and co-author of Hip Hop (Thomson Nelson) and Much Master T: A VJ’s Journey (ECW Press). As a broadcaster, Dalton has hosted his own TV show and has appeared as a pundit on every major Canadian network. You can visit Dalton at his blog. His most recent book is Fatherhood 4.0: iDad Applications Across Cultures (Insomniac Press).

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