Writing & Fighting


at American University:

From the boxing ring to the MMA cage, fight writers examine culture, race, gender and the human condition in a sport that juxtaposes unrelenting aggression with heroic fortitude.

Professor Nancy Kidder, American University


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Writing and Fighting

“At its moments of greatest intensity it seems to contain so complete and powerful an image of life—life’s beauty, vulnerability, despair, incalculable and often self-destructive courage—that boxing is life, and hardly a mere game.” Joyce Carol Oates, “On Boxing,” New York Times Magazine, 1985.

“He came out proudly for the ninth, and stood and fought back with all he had, but Marciano slugged him down, and he was counted out with his left arm hooked over the middle rope as he tried to rise. It was a crushing defeat for the higher faculties and a lesson in intellectual humility, but he had made a hell of a fight.” A.J. Liebling, “Ahab and Nemesis,” New Yorker, October 8, 1955.

Prizefighting has inspired many of our finest journalists, essayists, fiction writers, and filmmakers. From A.J. Liebling, Leonard Gardner, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, George Plimpton and Norman Mailer to Joyce Carol Oates, David Remnick, Martin Scorcese, Sylvester Stallone, David O. Russell, and Kerry Howley, the scene of two humans fighting against each other in combat for sport has served as a window into cultural moments and the setting for great stories. What is it about this spectacle that compels our attention and inspires such art?

In this class, we will examine the genre of fight writing and fight stories with an eye towards the use of language to describe conflict and the use of real and fictional fights and fighters to examine cultural issues. We will study fiction, nonfiction, and film, as well as websites, blogs, and podcasts. We will look at how writers have examined race in the context of fights and fighters, from the histories of Joe Louis and Muhammed Ali to the iconic cinematic portrayals of Rocky and Raging Bull. We will also discuss the significance of gender, as the rise of Mixed Martial Arts has propelled female fighters like Ronda Rousey into what was once thought of as an exclusively male domain. Since the goal of this writing seminar is to deepen and complicate students’ academic skills, students will engage in scholarly research and build upon their writing strategies. Fighting, like writing, is a combination of moves. From the beginning hook to the supporting jabs to that final knockdown, writers must know their audience and plan for their next punch.