The PEN is mightier than the awards

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm

It’s been a year since my last post, but some recent events have prompted one last (or perhaps penultimate) dispatch. No, there’s still no movie news. Several times over the last year someone of note has gotten interested, shopped the idea around to studios, and come up empty. So the movie rights are still up for grabs.

However, there has been news, in the form of a couple of late-season awards for 2009 books. The first was the United States Tennis Writer’s Association Book Awards, an inaugural prize announced in late August. A Terrible Splendor received second prize, losing out to Andre Agassi’s megaselling memoir, Open. (As my agent said, it’s not too bad to lose a close one to Agassi in the finals.) Third prize went to L. Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius.

I went down to the U.S. Open in early September for the awards ceremony, looking forward to meeting Andre and Jon and seeing some great tennis while I was there. Unfortunately, neither of them showed up, and the grounds pass I was given wouldn’t get me into the main stadium. The doubles matches I was able to see in Armstrong stadium were remarkably uninspired. So all I got for my five-hour roundtrip drive was a nice plaque, my photo taken with Mary Carillo, and brief glimpses of Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters, the eventual champions, practicing. Still, it was a fun, if tiring, day, and very nice to have the book recognized there.

That very night, after returning from New York, I had a phone call from Susan Orlean, the New Yorker writer (and author of The Orchid Thief), calling to tell me that A Terrible Splendor had won the inaugural PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. (sic; I’m know why they wanted to avoid “sportswriting,” but what are “literary sports”? The framers faced a grammatical conundrum.) So on October 13, Mileta and I took the train back in to the city for the PEN Literary Awards ceremony, which you can view here. (If for some reason you don’t want to see the entire 75-minute ceremony, you can drag the button ahead: Bob Lipsyte’s gracious presentation begins at 43:40, followed by my two-minute acceptance speech.)

Afterwards, the guys from ESPN’s publishing division took Mileta and me, Bob and his wife, my agent Albert, and two of the finalists, Warren St. John and Will Haygood, out for a fine meal, which lasted close to midnight. All in all, a wonderful evening in the city for us country bumpkins. The next day, it was back to the Berkshires and back to reality: the 6:30 alarm, kids’ homework, and the onset of the seven-month cold season. We were grateful to the acronymically well-matched PEN and ESPN for the splendid night out.

  1. Dear Mr. Fisher
    Savouring your fascinating book (Xmas gift for brother)& he’ll just have to wait!! Thot it perfect as he both history buff & tennis player playing Worlds ‘Von Cramm Cup’ for Canada in Turkey, Davis Cup when younger & possibly even Wimbleden.
    Am mediocre 3.0 player side-lined past year by bulging disk but Co-Captained GGTSC Men’s 4.0 team in SF for 5 yrs & this August made it to Sectionals to my astonishment! Your book will be a forced read for all tho sold out except in Britain so took month for delivery.
    Thank you so much for this fabo/fascinating read…no one heard of ‘Handful of Summers’ by Gordon Forbes & now used paperbacks cost $60-160 on Amazon so dont give up as yours is also a classic!
    Best Joan McCormick
    PS: In Acknowlegdments mentioned Joan McMasters of VLTBC (do read cover-to-cover) and know her slightly as still belong there.

  2. Joan,

    Many thanks for your comment. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the book so much. I don’t understand, though, the month-long wait for delivery. I know Amazon has plenty of copies of the paperback for immediate shipping, and the price has gone down to US$9.69. A little more on the Canadian Amazon, but they seem to have plenty available too.

    In any case, thanks for writing. (And please give my best to the other Joan too if you see her.)


  3. Mr. Fisher-
    Your book sits right alongside “Greatest Game Ever Played” when it comes to sports-related non-fiction. You should be extremely proud. I was sad to read the last word, and it’s even harder to take when you know tennis books just don’t come out very often. It seems new and interesting golf stories are released at break-neck speed, and I hope your hard work has inspired some talented, thorough writers to explore the history of tennis. I’d like to myself, actually, and I definitely have you to thank. Thanks so much for taking the time to detail the lives of people like the Baron, Budge, and Tilden…truly amazing athletes and personalities.

    Hope you can post your article on racquet technology one day.

    Best regards,


  4. Matt,

    Thanks for your note. I’m really glad you liked the book. I’ll try to post the racket-technology article when I get home from vacation, but you’ll probably find that it’s way out of date.


  5. Matt, I finally posted that old “Racket Science” article. You can read/download it now from my “Publications” page.

  6. I was a close friend of the late Don Budge and an admirer of your book. I’m an attorney in NYC and would like to talk to you about a possible film project for your book. My email address is Phone 212 679 0400. Hope to hear from you.
    Lee Miller.

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