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11 Prominent Authors Who Excelled in Sports

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Some of the most important literary figures of the last century had previously made a name for themselves in athletics. Here are the stories of a halfback who became a beatnik, an Olympic-hopeful wrestler who became leader of the Merry Pranksters, and nine other athletically gifted writers.

1. Ken Kesey

Reading Tom Wolfe's anatomical account of Kesey in The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, with his "thick wrists and big forearms," "big neck with a pair of stemocleido-mastoid muscles," whose "jaw and chin are massive," it's little surprise he was a standout football player and wrestler as an Oregonian schoolboy. Kesey's prowess on the mat landed him at The University of Oregon where, competing in the 174 lb. division, he earned the Fred Lowe Scholarship, awarded annually to the Northwest's most outstanding wrestler.

A shoulder injury sustained during preliminary qualifying for the United States Olympic team effectively ended his wrestling days while simultaneously kick-starting his literary career: The same day Kesey was notified by the military that the injury classified as 4F, thus disqualifying him for service in Vietnam, he was also granted the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, which allowed him to enter Stanford's writing program.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons user MDCarchives

2. David Foster Wallace

Like Kesey, Wallace's imposing stature in the literary field was equal parts metaphorical and literal. Author David Lipsky observed the late writer walking with "...an ex-athlete's saunter – a roll from the heels, as if any physical thing was a pleasure."

A football enthusiast in his youth, Wallace spent his post-pubescence pursuing and maintaining a level of, as he put it, "...near great junior tennis player." As a 14-year-old, he enjoyed a U.S. Tennis Association ranking of 17th in the Midwest, 4th in his home state of Illinois, and, by his own estimation, "around one hundredth in the nation." Even in his athletic twilight, he continued to possess unwavering confidence in his abilities, confessing, "deep down inside, I still consider myself an extremely good tennis player, very hard to beat."

The subject of tennis—its beauty, intricacies, participants, etc.—permeates the late post-modernist's bibliography, so it's of little surprise when Wallace, in an Esquire profile of tennis pro Michael Joyce, submits "...that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is and also the most demanding." A man known for footnotes, his life in tennis was anything but.

Photo by Flickr user claude le monde (Claudia Sherman)

3. Jack Kerouac

The protagonist of Jack Kerouac's first novel, The Town and The City, enjoys success as a high school football star before accepting an athletic scholarship. As is the case with the majority of the Beat writer's works, it's largely autobiographical.

The Lowell, MA, native ran track and played in the outfield for his hometown school, but it was in the backfield for Lowell's football squad where he enjoyed the most success. Several top universities, including Boston College and Notre Dame, expressed interest in his services before he accepted a scholarship offer from Columbia University. However, constant clashes with his head coach and a major tibia injury in the season's second game ended his football career.

A recent piece on Kerouac's childhood, entitled "Another Side of Kerouac: The Dharma Bum as Sports Nut," reveals the author's childhood passion for fantasy sports decades before the concept entered into the collective consciousness of American sports fans: "He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players... He collected their stats, analyzed their performances..."

Photograph by Tom Palumbo, via his Flickr stream

4. Samuel Beckett


Beckett's obituary in the New York Times features the sub-header, "A Star in Study and Sports," a fitting summation of the cricketer/rugby player/light-heavyweight boxer turned novelist/playwright/theater director.

Beckett's affection for cricket remained long after his playing days ended, and it's as a cricketer that he enjoys his most noteworthy distinctions. As a student at Dublin University, the lefty bowler/batter twice participated in 'first-class' cricket matches ('first-class' referring to the highest level of domestic cricket as sanctioned by the game's governing body). Upon receiving the 1969 Nobel Prize for literature, Beckett earned the double-distinction of "only Nobel laureate to have played first-class cricket" and "only laureate to have an entry in Wisden Cricketeers' Almanack," which is considered the foremost authority on the game.

5. Jim Carroll

By the age of 13, Jim Carroll was cementing his legend on the basketball courts of New York City's Lower East Side and writing, in the words of Jack Kerouac, "better prose than 89 percent of the novelists working today."

Carroll's family moved to the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, and his raw, prodigious talents on the court and in the classroom earned him a half-academic, half-athletic scholarship to Manhattan's Trinity School, one of the nation's elite prep schools. A three-time All-City performer while at Trinity, he was selected to play in the National High School All-Star Game in 1966.

But schoolboy exploits only tell half the story. As is the case with all too many NYC hoop legends of the era, his playground exploits are left to the subjective memory of oral historians who recall Carroll's rivalry with fellow Inwood resident Lew Alcindor, among other greats.

While his addiction to heroin—famously chronicled in The Basketball Diaries—adversely affected his chances of playing college ball (he once recalled nodding off during dinner with a representative from Notre Dame), Carroll maintained that it was literature, not dope, that killed his basketball game.

Photograph by Eric Thompson, via the Jim Carroll fan site

6. Tom Wolfe

Prior to his career as New Journalist and writer, Tom Wolfe's foremost aspiration was to play professional baseball. After starring on the mound at Richmond's St. Christopher's School, Wolfe found himself on the pitching staff at Washington and Lee University. Possessing, in his own words, "a great screwball," he would go on to play a couple of seasons of semi-professional baseball until 1952, when he was granted a tryout for the New York Giants. Having been cut by the Giants after only 3 days, which he attributes to a lack of a fastball, the writer was prompted to forgo his baseball dreams and pursue a PhD in American Studies at Yale.

Upon reflection of his failed diamond pursuits, Wolfe remarked, "The only thing that saved me from a very poor career as a professional baseball player is the fact that I wasn't good enough."

Photo is from the White House Salute to American Authors in 2004

Honorable Mentions

7. Malcolm Lowry
Author of Under the Volcano, he won the junior golf championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club at age 15.

8. John Fowles
A member of The Times' "50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945" list, Fowles attended the Bedford School and was a standout on the rugby, fives, and cricket teams.

9. Roald Dahl
Acclaimed author of several of the greatest modern children's books, as well as screenplays for You Only Live Once and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the 6'6" Dahl played football, boxed in the heavyweight division, and captained the fives and squash teams at Repton, a famed public school.

10. Stephen Crane
Author of The Red Badge of Courage, he played baseball as a catcher at three different colleges: Claverack, Lafayette, and Syracuse.

11. James Dickey
Former U.S. Poet Laureate and author of Deliverance, he played tailback at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina.

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

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