Gay Talese's books include The Kingdom and the Power (1969), Honor Thy Father (1971), Thy Neighbor's Wife (1981), Unto the Sons (1992), and A Writer's Life (2006).
The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese has just been issued by Walker & Company.
From Talese's conversation with James Mustich:
James Mustich: Sports has been entwined with your life as a writer from the beginning—when you were in high school. Which came first, your interest in writing, or your interest in sports?--Marshal Zeringue
Gay Talese: Let me go back one step further. What led me to newspapers was that I had a father who read them. He read the New York Times. When I was ten years old—in 1942— I was aware of the war, and I was particularly aware of it because my father, who was from Italy, had brothers who were in the Italian army. The invasion of Italy was underway when I was 11 and 12, and my father was very concerned about his village and his people—not only his brothers, who were fighting the Americans, but his widowed mother. His native village, Maida, was in the path of the American army as it moved from Sicily up to Calabria. I wrote about this in Unto the Sons.
So my father read the newspaper, and it wasn't the Philadelphia newspaper, even though Ocean City, New Jersey, where I was born, is close to Philadelphia; it was the New York Times. I didn't read the paper with any interest, obviously, then, but I did read the sports page for this reason: at the time the war was on, the Yankees moved to Atlantic City (that was in 1943 and 1944) for spring training, since because of the rationing teams didn't go to Florida during World War II. And Atlantic City is only 11 miles from where I was born and grew up. This was the 1943 championship Yankee team. The manager was Joe McCarthy, who was the famous manager of the time of DiMaggio. Granted, DiMaggio wasn't playing—a lot of the top names in baseball were in the army. Not all. But there weren't many name ballplayers on the Yankee team that I saw in 1943 and '44.
I would get on the trolley and I would go over there, and then I'd read the New York Times about spring training. That's when I started reading the newspaper. My father was reading it for the international news, and I would look at the sports section. I'd see articles about what I'd seen myself. I'd see the exhibition games, and I'd get autographs. Because in spring training at that time, they didn't play in stadiums. Today spring training fields are like any other major league ballpark—places like Tampa, for example, where the Yankees train. But in those days it was an old airport that had old bleachers—that's where the Yankees played baseball. It was a gravel field, with some grass; it was springtime; the grass wasn't growing yet.
Reading sports in the Times, I got to know...[read on]