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Great Men Die Twice: The Selected Works of Mark Kram Paperback – June 23, 2015
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“[Kram] understood the history and the strategy of the ring, and he could describe a jab or a roundhouse right with the precision that made you feel it...his prose was energetic, inventive...and enormously fun to read.” ―The New York Times
“Richly created stories...[Kram's] writing forever elevated sports reporting to an art form.” ―The Washington Review of Books
“Mark Kram's best pieces can only be described as literature. His elevation of American vernacular and jaundiced native lyricism combined to produce essays that will endure as long as anyone cares to read about sports.” ―Thomas McGuane
“Mark Kram was brittle, but he could be brilliant. At his best, as this collection shows, he wrote about sports as well as anybody ever did. At his very best, no one ever wrote nonfiction for magazines as well as Mark did.” ―Frank Deford
“There has never been another sports writer quite like Mark Kram, brilliant and haunted, with an eye for the fallen and forgotten and the power to capture Ali and Frazier as they destroyed each other in pursuit of greatness. With prose that was by turns muscular, cerebral, and soulful, Kram painted word pictures that deserved life beyond the magazines they appeared in. Now, thanks to this shimmering collection, justice is done.” ―John Schulian, editor, Football: Great Writing About The National Sport
“This wondrous collection of stories will introduce a new generation of readers to Mark Kram's genius…These stories bleed with raw beauty and insight.” ―Michael Leahy, author of When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan's Last Comeback
About the Author
MARK KRAM was one of Sports Illustrated's most acclaimed writers during the 1960s and 70s, and published more pieces on Muhammad Ali for the magazine than any other writer, along with many other features. He also contributed to Esquire, Gentleman's Quarterly, Playboy, and other publications. His articles on boxing have been widely anthologized, including The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, edited by David Halberstam, and The Fights, a collection of essays edited by Richard Ford. His book Ghosts of Manila (HarperCollins, 2001) is the classic account of the third fight between Ali and Joe Frazier. A native of Baltimore, he died in June 2002.
MARK KRAM, JR. is the author of Like Any Normal Day, which received the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. His feature articles have won the Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists and has been published six times in The Best American Sports Writing Anthology. Kram lives in New Jersey with his family.
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And as a result of that literarily creative environment, these talented mid-1960s reporters were allowed to expand their art, essentially unchecked, to produce pieces of pure literary grace, with Mark Kram in particular becoming adept at capturing and broadening what I’d call the “Sports Illustrated Style.” Whether covering a featured event (most often the lead into and denouement of affairs between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier), or a discourse on an obscure non-sports related subject, Kram possessed the unique ability to mesmerize while elevating his subject regardless of topic. And fortunate for us, his son, Mark Kram Jr., an author of some renown himself, recognized his father’s genius and collected much of his best work and published it in this wonderful book “Great Men Die Twice.”
The wars between Ali and Frazier clearly brought out the best in Kram and these pieces are the obvious selling points for this book, but it is the non-boxing essays that really expose the extent of Kram’s talent. Whether chronicling diverse subjects such as barrel riding over Niagara Falls, the inner psyche of hurdler Edwin Moses, the saga of former Negro League legend Cool Papa Bell or my particular favorite, a fictionalized first person account of former Major League great Hack Wilson, from the dead, maligning the fact that he’d not been elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame (this was a 1977 Sports Illustrated feature that pre-dated Wilson’s actual election to the Hall in 1979, with many pointing to this article as the convincing motive that pushed the Hall’s Veteran’s Committee to finally relent and elect Wilson), Kram displays a much wider literary capacity than his genre typically represents.
With visionary writing like this 1992 Esquire article warning of the long term effects of professional football violence, Kram not only entertained but “reported,” writing about important developments in a style and voice far beyond the daily beat writer; his was sports writing with soul, with thought, with a purpose that not only communicated a message but transcended mere journalism:
“Admittedly, it is not easy to control a game that is inherently destructive to the body. Tip the rules to the defense, and you have nothing more than gang war; move them too far toward the offense, and you have mostly conflict without resistance. Part of the NFL dilemma is in its struggle between illusion and reality; it wants to stir the blood without you really absorbing that it IS blood. It also luxuriates in its image of the American war game, strives to be the perfect metaphor for Clausewitz’s ponderings about real-war tactics (circa 1819, i.e. stint on blood and you lose). The warrior ethic is central to the game, and no coach or player can succeed without astute attention to the precise fashioning of a warrior mentality (loss of self), defined by Ernie Barnes, formerly of the Colts and the Chargers, as ‘the aggressive nature that knows no safety zones.’”
To become truly entranced by a bygone and ethereal sports writing era, a style that has unfortunately been replaced by the turbulent minute-to-minute update of our modern culture, read this now obscure work of one of our truly great sports writers and be enthralled by the span of this man’s talent. Whether interested in the history of the Ali-Frazier saga or great sports writing in general, you will not find better than “Great Men Die Twice.”
Kram's essays on Muhammad Ali are the best I've ever read about boxing's most rhapsodized star. Kram understands the myth of Ali, but he also sees through it to the man behind the idea of Ali that we all carry with us. Usually when a book by a sports writer features so many articles about non-combatants (as this collection does), I end up feeling cheated. But Kram's essay about Marlon Brando is the most astute and eerily insightful thing I've ever read not only about the enigmatic Brando, but about the human ego. Kram's short works are filled with so much insight and beautiful language that, after ten pages or so, the reader feels like they've just closed out a read of a great, long novel.
That said, Kram's "kitchen sink" approach to the superlative, his tendency toward colorful and melodramatic language, can be a bit wearing at times. Even his son acknowledges this in the intro to the book, noting that some of his dad's work doesn't stand the test of time. Kram reminds me of Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury in that way, two other great writers who sometimes allowed something sentimental and overwrought to sneak into their work and undermine what was great about their writing.
What's good in this book more than compensates for what's pedestrian or wearing. Kram's writing is like the city of Los Angeles: You got to see it at least once, whether you love it or hate it. I just wish Amazon allowed "half-stars" into their rating systems, because this one probably deserves four-and-a-half. Recommended.