The Road Back

April 19, 2011

When I first set out for Cooperstown in 2006 to research the book that would become She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, it seemed like a fun adventure. A mother of two relatively young children, I didn’t have a lot of time to myself, so setting out in a smelly rental car for a long road trip seemed kind of like the high life.

Five years later, I’m going back. (Okay, I’ve been back in the interim too, but that doesn’t serve this story.)

I remember stopping into the Hall of Fame bookstore my first time there, looking at all the wonderful books, and hoping that my notes would make that unlikely journey from disjointed mess to a manuscript deemed worthy of acquisition. And further hoping that some day I might be honored enough to be invited to sign my book in the Hall of Fame bookstore.

I’ve been to enough book signings to know they’re not the magical events we all imagine them to be before we published.

But it’s different at the Hall of Fame.

After I give a short speech on Effa Manley and her scrapbook on Thursday, I’ll be heading up to the bookstore to sign my book. I’ll be sitting there, surrounded by great baseball books. It’s almost like a shot of baseball directly into the bloodstream, a direct absorption of history and tradition.

It’s a long ride, and this time I’m bringing my family with me. It’s not my favorite drive, the New Jersey-Cooperstown route, but I suspect I’m going to be grinning the whole way. And maybe I’ll let someone else do the driving.

Stay tuned.


The Most Famous Woman In Baseball: Interview with Author Bob Luke

March 21, 2011

When I wrote SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, one of my go-to resources was a book by James Overmyer, QUEEN OF THE NEGRO LEAGUES. At the time, it was the only existing biography of Effa Manley.

Author Bob Luke has just come out with another, and has graciously agreed to be my guest for a short interview here about his experience writing about Effa Manley in his new book, THE MOST FAMOUS WOMAN IN BASEBALL.

What attracted you to Effa Manley’s story?

She caught my attention as I was working on my two previous Negro league books – – a biography of Willie Wells, who played for and managed the Eagles – – and a team history of the Baltimore Elite Giants who played in the same league as the Eagles. I kept hearing this passionate, assertive, female voice pushing for efficiency, fairness, and equality in a crowd of good ole boys who turned a deaf ear to her pleas to their lasting detriment. I had to find out more about her.

Do you have a favorite Effa anecdote?

I can’t say I have a favorite anecdote, but I do admire her style and consistency. She never backed down from players, sportswriters, team owners, major league officials, the Mexican consulate – – anyone she thought stood in her way. At the same time she was thoughtful and considerate toward those who served the team well – – helping former players with loans for homes and businesses, sending Christmas packages to players in Europe during World War II, and thanking sportswriters who gave what she considered to be informed coverage to herself and the team.


In what ways do you think the Eagles differed from other Negro League teams and in what ways were those differences attributable to Effa?

I don’t think the Eagles differed much from the other teams.  They all played on a shoestring, their star players were forever jumping the team for better pay elsewhere, they traveled long days and nights on rickety buses to a never ending series of scheduled league games and barnstorming games, all while contending with Jim Crowism.  Eagles’ players received more advice than players probably did on other teams. Effa advised them on all manner of things – – how to dress, comport themselves in public, handle their money, where to live, never go places alone, don’t drink too much. She never failed to criticize players who showed up late for spring training or defaulted on loans. She always had the welfare of her team and the behavior of her players uppermost in her mind and on her tongue.

What do you think Effa would have said upon hearing that she was going to be the first — and as yet, only — woman inducted into the Hall of Fame?

I imagine she would have been pleased. Who wouldn’t? But I also think she would have protested that the Hall inducted the wrong Manley; that the honor should have gone to Abe. She always said Abe knew more about baseball than she did, and that she was just helping him out. For sure though, she would have pasted newspaper clippings covering her induction into her scrapbook.

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Thanks so much, Bob, for taking the time to talk about your book.

Bob Luke and I will be on hand to celebrate Effa Manley Day with the Newark Bears on Saturday, May 28 (Memorial Day weekend) at their great ballpark. It’ll be an awesome night–we’ll honor Effa at the start of the game, and celebrate with fireworks afterward. The ballpark affords fantastic views of the NYC skyline, and it’s going to be a very fun, very memorable evening. We hope to see you there!


Awards and Honors

January 8, 2011

‘Tis the season. The new class for the Baseball Hall of Fame was announced this week. On Monday morning, the big children’s book awards will be announced.  (Can’t-help-it gush: My favorite award shows, the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, will both be televised this month.) It’s award time, boys and girls.

Mixed in with excitement for winners, I always feel the hurt of those not honored. Well, maybe not Raphael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire, but all the other ones whose names are repeatedly not selected. And those who write books that don’t reach the hands of the decision-making powers that be.

Barry Bonds(An aside about Palmeiro and McGwire. Am I the only one who noticed that the majority of no-neck big heads wore the number 25?)

But I digress.

As word leaks out on Monday from San Diego about the children’s books that were honored, I just want to say to the rest of you—GOOD JOB, WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS! Gold seals are lovely, but this year was so rich in high-quality children’s literature. I’m honored to be part of this world. And I am so, so happy that we children’s writers and illustrators resisted the urge to take performance-enhancing drugs to improve our game.


Early Bloomers

January 1, 2011

When I learned that She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story had been nominated for the American Library Association’s 2011 Amelia Bloomer List, I was so proud. According to the Amelia Bloomer Policies and Procedures, their goal is:  “To select from the current year’s publications books with strong feminist messages for young people from birth to age 18.”

I’ve always believed the story Effa Manley told with her life was an inspiring one, an important one. I hadn’t given much conscious thought to the question of whether or not it was a feminist one.

What appeals to me so much about Effa’s story is the unflinching way she always proceeded. When something was wrong, she sought to right it. When something needed doing, she did it. The fact that she was the only female executive in Negro League Baseball didn’t seem to register to her. Her team needed certain tasks accomplished, and so she accomplished them. With aplomb.

There are lots of ways to define feminist–but if I tried to come up with a better example than that, I’m not sure I could.

The introduction to last year’s Amelia Bloomer Award List stated: “this bibliography is intended to highlight feminist books examining women’s history, those that celebrate women who have blazed trails, and those that describe problems and identify solutions for situations we face today.”

If we’re smart, and I’m pretty sure we are, we might want to think about that a little as we look ahead. A new year provides an annual opportunity to rethink how we do what we do. The good people at the Amelia Bloomer Project have given us a pretty good guide. Let’s highlight, celebrate, blaze trails, identify solutions. Let’s do all of that.


What’s Left on the Cutting Room Floor

December 2, 2010

My reading self enjoys nonfiction books about people I’ve never heard of. The last few years have brought a fantastic crop: Chris Barton’s The Day-Glo Brothers, Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts, Jody Nyasha Warner’s Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged.

My reading self has never once questioned the choices those writers made. But my writing self knows there are many ways to tell a true story.

Every life has thousands of relevant facts. The writer sifts and filters and ponders to figure out which ones make the final cut. The text that emerges will inform readers’ understanding of who this person was.

That’s a hefty responsibility.

Of course, we all do this kind of selective editing every day. The stories we choose to share about ourselves, about our children, are the ones we want others to know.

It’s tempting to do the same for our nonfiction subjects–to show only their best selves. As one who writes for children, that’s sometimes uncomfortably close to what I actually do. Because my main filter, the one that catches the most stuff, is the Suitability for Children Filter.

In Brothers at Bat: The True Story of An Amazing All-Brother Team (Clarion, 2012), some of my favorite anecdotes—the testosterone stories in which the brothers out-macho each other with dubious judgment—never made it into the book. “You can’t do that!” my writer self wanted to scream at the now 80+-year-old subjects. “It’s a book for CHILDREN!”

In nonfiction, it turns out, you don’t get to tell your characters what they can do. But you do have a responsibility to decide which facts belong, especially since you can’t share them all.

Effa Manley, the subject of She Loved Baseball, was a civil rights activist. The text includes a boycott she led against a Harlem store that refused to hire black workers. It does not include the Anti-Lynching Day promotion Effa held at the Newark Eagles’ stadium. That promotion is a telling detail about the kind of thinker she was. But it doesn’t belong in a children’s book.

Such decisions extend into illustration. For Bark and Tim: A True Story of Friendship, my sister/co-author and I got to choose which of Tim Brown’s autobiographical paintings would illustrate the book. Instead of selecting the most visually appealing, we ran it through the Suitability for Children Filter. Paintings not included: Bark Eating Deer, Dog Peeing on Papa, Bit By Bark, Chasing Rats, Bark Chasing White Kids.

You get the idea.

Suitability for young children has to be the prime filter. Figuring out the ratios of the other fact-filters is a nonfiction author’s job. Finding the right balance of truth, appeal, relevance, and length is the craft of writing nonfiction.

My reading self appreciates a good true story. My writing self needs to be sure my books are as right as they can be. Other people’s reading selves may be counting on that.

Originally published in December 2010 issue of 4:00 Book Hook. Click here for more information and back issues.