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First Baseball Novel by Black Writer Has Racial Protest Theme, Says Author

Runner Mack, Nominated for 1972 National Book Award, Uses Baseball as Metaphor

Silver Spring, MD – WEBWIRE
Runner Mack
Runner Mack

Considered the first novel about baseball written by a black writer, Runner Mack is equally about racial protest, says author Barry Beckham.

“I considered baseball as the sport that defines America,” says Beckham in an online interview. “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.”

“Runner Mack,” says Ball State University Professor Emily Rutter, “is the first baseball novel by an African American,” in her essay in the journal Melus.

Using stylistic touches of satire and surrealism, Beckham describes how Adams catches a fly ball but drops it because the manager inserted a paralyzing electric current in his glove.

The absurdity continues when Adams is drafted to fight a war in Alaska against an unknown enemy. Their assignment is to shoot caribou with a rifle. He and his partner Runner Mack escape via helicopter—and neither knows how to navigate. Critics have pointed out how “Runner Mack” is one of the few black novels of the 1960s that protest the Vietnam War. Many have placed Beckham in the group of militant protest writers of the 1960s and 1970s.

“Overall,” says Beckham, “Looking at how the African-American community has been dehumanized for centuries, we can see how more recent events—50 years after Runner Mack—illustrate what may be called a failed social experience. We say that the country offers equal opportunity, but the reality has been disturbingly contradictory.”

Beckham says that the most prominent failure in the athletic world is the NFL’s recent refusal to employ quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling for racial justice because his activist defiance would reduce gate attendance and revenues.

According to Library Journal, “Beckham is a masterful writer, and his novel is an emblem of contemporary black frustration.”

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 Racial Protest
 National Book Award
 Colin Kaeperneck
 Militant Black Writers
 1960s Activism

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