Friday, January 20, 2012

Extra! Extra! Free Gerald Early essay on the great Joe Frazier!

When the great heavyweight champion Joe Frazier died, I felt The St. Louis American should run a news obit. I suspected Michael Spinks or someone from the Spinks team would provide our local St. Louis hook, and I was right, but I also asked Gerald Early for a quote.

As author of The Culture of Bruising, one of the great brainiac books on prizefighting, Gerald would pass muster as an expert quote on boxing in any publication. As a black man who lives in St. Louis, he was the perfect quote for St. Louis' black newspaper. More than that, Gerald is a Philly guy, and Philadelphia is the city that defined Frazier as a fighter. I hit him up.

I never heard back before deadline. I didn't take it personally. Gerald is a busy man, and Frazier died on a Monday night, only giving me one full day before our deadline day to pull my story together. I'm the paper's managing editor, so I do any reporting by hook or crook between managing assignments and crunching copy. The time I'd like to spend nagging my sources for their quotes I actually spend nagging my reporters and photojournalists for their copy and photos.

More than two months after Frazier's tragic death, I heard back from Gerald. He said he needed more than a quote in someone else's newspaper piece, which is why he wrote the Belles Lettres piece. Belles Lettres is a publication of the Center for the Humanities at Washington University, which Gerald directs. Since I am one of his Community Advisory Board members, Gerald fairly assumed I'd read his piece, but for some reason I had not received my copy. I asked for one.

Yesterday I received in the mail the September/December 2001 issue of Belles Lettres, which ends with Gerald's essay "The Fire-Breather, the Gym, and the City: How Boxer Joe Frazier Defined Philadelphia." It's just exactly what I wanted from to hear from him when I asked for my quote: the perspective of a black man from Philadelphia who knows and loves prizefighting. It's an unforgettable, bravura piece of writing.

I see now you can find the essay online, but when I assumed there was only the print edition, I asked Gerald how my friends who love boxing and his prose (not a small number of people) can get a hold of a copy of Belles Lettres. He reminded me our magazine is a free publication with an open subscription. To request a copy of the issue with Gerald Early's classic Joe Frazier essay, and sign up for future issues of Belles Lettres, simply notify our adminiastrative assistant Barb Liebmann at or 314-935-5576. This particular issue is a slick, handsome 36-pager; any fan of prizefighting will treasure it.

Here is what's funny, and I pointed this out to Gerald before I'm telling you. I'm sure Frazier died on the doorstep of his magazine deadline, just as he did on our newspaper deadline. In rushing this essay to print, Gerald dropped his byline from his essay. The essay appears without author credit. Gerald is the publisher and editor, so he only has himself to blame, and I'm sure he has forgiven himself. But Washington University can be a conservative and stuffy place, and like any high-profile institution it is very jumpy (and rightly so) on issues of race. I'm fairly certain that Gerald Early is the only person at Wash U who would sign his name to a piece of writing in a Wash U publication that drops both the F-bomb and the N-word. Yet the writer of this essay is a non-bylined phantom!

Strong language, Gerald explained his choice of words, for a strong man. Absofuckinglutely!

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