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“Runner Mack” Was First Baseball Novel Written by A Black Novelist

Author Barry Beckham Says He Was Writing Protest Novel

Silver Spring – WEBWIRE
Runner Mack, cover photo Barry Beckham
Runner Mack, cover photo Barry Beckham

First baseball novel written by a black writer is close to its 50th anniversary

Considered the first novel about baseball by a black writer, “Runner Mack” is also about racial bigotry, says author Barry Beckham. 

Published in 1972 and nominated for a National Book Award, “Runner Mack,” says Ball State University Professor Emily Rutter, “is the first baseball novel by an African American.” Her essay appears in “Melus” a journal of multi-ethnic literature published by Oxford University Press.

“I considered baseball as the sport that defines America,” says Beckham. “So when the main character, Henry Adams doesn’t make the team after his sensational tryout, I use that experience to show how racial discrimination permeates all levels of our society.”

Using stylistic touches of satire and surrealism, Beckham describes how Adams catches a fly ball but has to drop it because it contains a paralyzing electric current.
The absurdity continues when Adams is drafted to fight a war in Alaska against an unknown enemy. He and his partner Runner Mack escape via helicopter—and neither knows how to pilot. Critics have pointed out how “Runner Mack” is one of the few black novels of the 1960s that allude to the Vietnam War.

Wrote “New York Times” reviewer John Leonard, “Barry Beckham plays handball with the heart, a savagely controlled game. Beckham is already a most valuable player.”  See video here.

This is not Beckham’s first time to break new ground. He published the first college guide for black students in 1982, and he wrote the first theatrical play about Marcus Garvey in 1972. While a Hampton University professor, he directed the first high school writers workshop for black students in Virginia in the 1980s.

 To celebrate the first month of major league baseball, his publishing house gives a special discount on three baseball novels including Runner Mack.  Click here for details.


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