Before Deford, 77, began serving as the weekly sports commentator for National Public Radio in 1980, he was renowned for pioneering longform sportswriting in Sports Illustrated.
Fast-forward to 2016. Deford has pared down his on-air work for NPR to once a month. "But I will always write. Writing is an infusion for me, and I think I will write until they put me in assisted living,'' said Deford, who is also well-known for penning Everybody's All-American (turned into a 1988 movie starring Jessica Lange and Dennis Quaid) and Alex: The Life of a Child (the story of his daughter, Alexandra, who died of cystic fibrosis in 1980). Add to that this month's release of I'd Know That Voice Anywhere, a collection of his NPR essays, as well as an upcoming novel Deford describes as a post-World War II family saga.
Among his many honors, Deford is the recipient of the 2012 National Humanities Medal (received from President Barack Obama "for transforming the way America thinks about sports''), the 2013 PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing and a 1988 Emmy for his writing during the Seoul Olympics. We caught up with Deford, who divides his time between New York City and Key West, by phone on June 8.
What's on your nightstand?
I am just finishing Dimestore by Lee Smith. It's a memoir. And right before that I read Mary Beard's SPQR. It was good. It is about the Roman Empire.
How did you come across Dimestore?
My wife recommended it. After a long history book, it was very attractive. It is a memoir on writing. I'm an eclectic reader. I also recently tackled Middlemarch. I enjoyed it, but maybe they could've taken out a few pages. I'm glad I read it. I try to read some of the things that I've missed along the way that I should have read.
What sports journalist is at the top of your list?
It's interesting. It used to be that you would identify sports journalists through magazines, either writing columns for places like Sports Illustrated or newspapers, and now you go online, to blogs and other places. It's not as easy to tell who the good ones are. I think I would say, though, one of the best writers is Tom Verducci, who writes on baseball for Sports Illustrated. What I find amazing about Tom is that he not only is a fine writer but he knows the sport so well. To me, he's a double threat. He's such a student of the game, and he also has great writing ability.
Since I'm speaking to you so soon after the death of Muhammad Ali, I wanted to get your thoughts.
I was not the least bit surprised Ali had died. We had known for quite some time how sick he was. He'd been in a bad way for many years. I'm surprised he lived as long as he did, and so my first reaction was just that I'm not surprised, and if anything, I'm glad that he's out of his pain. I imagine for a guy like him to lose both his body and his voice, it was very hard for him, and I think it was all the blows he took during his profession. One time, six or seven of us were having dinner, and he literally went to sleep with his head on my wife's shoulder, and I think it was because he couldn't participate in the conversation. He was just cheated out of so many years. So, my feeling when I heard was Godspeed.
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.