Invisible Ball of DreamsLiterary Representations of Baseball behind the Color Line

Invisible Ball of DreamsLiterary Representations of Baseball behind the Color Line

Emily Ruth Rutter

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781496817129

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


Although many Americans think of Jackie Robinson when they consider the story of race and racism in baseball, a long history of tragedies and triumphs precede Robinson’s momentous debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. From the pioneering Cuban Giants (1885-1915) to the Negro Leagues (1920-1960), black baseball was a long-standing, if underdocumented, staple of African American communities. This book examines creative portraits of this history by William Brashler, Jerome Charyn, August Wilson, Gloria Naylor, Harmony Holiday, Kadir Nelson, and Denzel Washington, among others. Divided into three literary waves, the book is especially attentive to the archival contributions (and at times drawbacks) of imaginative representations of black baseball. Specifically, the book argues that African American and Euro-American novelists, playwrights, poets, and filmmakers fill in gaps and silences in recorded baseball history; democratize access to archives by sharing their research with readers; and advance countermythologies to whitewashed baseball lore. Reading representations across the literary color line also opens up a propitious space for exploring black cultural pride and residual frustrations with racial hypocrisies on the one hand and the benefits and limitations of white empathy on the other. Thus, while this book’s particular focus is black baseball, the comparative, archival mode of analysis utilized herein provides a model for analyzing literary interventions in other marginalized cultural histories as well.