The magnificent Katherine Dunn

By Pete Ehrmann on May 15, 2016
The magnificent Katherine Dunn
“The articles and essays are remarkable in their readability.” (Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images)

I spoke to Ms. Dunn once on the phone many years ago and we exchanged emails after my review of her book came out…

When Katherine Dunn’s “One Ring Circus: Dispatches from the World of Boxing” came out in 2009, I wrote that the collection of boxing features and columns by the acclaimed novelist (“Geek Love”) was the equal of W.C. Heinz’s “Once They Heard the Cheers” and Hugh McIlvanney’s “The Hardest Game,” and that I’d be “returning to it again and again, and learning more each time.”

When I open it tonight it will be in homage to the woman who considered it “a privilege to serve as a reporter for the pugilistic art” and who died on May 11 at her home in Portland, Oregon.

“Every one of the 24 articles and essays (and the introduction, to boot) is remarkable in its readability and wisdom,” I wrote about her compendium for the CyberBoxingZone, for which Ms. Dunn served as associate editor. “Ms. Dunn knows boxing and, more importantly, she gets it and the characters and personalities who inhabit the sport as spot-on as Heinz, Liebling and McIlvanney – and writes about it all just as deftly and lyrically.

“Her profile of Lucia Rijker and other articles/essays about women’s boxing didn’t quite overcome my old-school prejudice against it,” my review continued, “but Ms. Dunn’s strong arguments and insightful prose had me covering up on the ropes. She and I do share certain other prejudices, and I cheered reading, anent Sugar Ray Leonard: ‘I have never liked him. His showboat style in the ring offends me. His willingness to taunt and belittle his opponents with jeers and insolently lowered guard infuriates me. The flamboyant insult of his “bolo” punch is particularly obnoxious when it works, which is usually. When this despicable bolo is used to humiliate and bamboozle my heroes … I consider it an abominable atrocity.’

“The pieces about Holmes-Cooney, Hagler-Hearns and Alexis Arguello are as good as any I’ve seen in the anthologies, but my favorites are the quirky ones such as ‘Buckaroo Boxing,’ about a club show in a carnival in Mollala, Oregon; ‘Fists of Fury: Francisco Roche’ (whose ‘brand of sportsmanship in the ring is that of a bobcat in a hen house’); and ‘The Rumble in the Rectory,’ about a fundraising bout between a priest and a priest-in-training.

“Ms. Dunn’s brutally honest profile of poor Johnny Tapia is flat-out one of the best I’ve ever read. Her defense of Mike Tyson’s biting of Evander Holyfield’s ears is slightly over the top, but it’s still riveting and gives some holier-than-thou people in boxing a deserved kick in the pants.”

I spoke to Ms. Dunn once on the phone many years ago and we exchanged emails after my review of her book came out. She was totally gracious and kind, as true champions always are.

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  1. peter 04:10am, 05/16/2016

    Ms. Dunn’s book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for years. Your article re-ignites my interest. Thank you. Maybe now I’ll pick up “Geek Love”, too.

  2. Bob 03:39am, 05/16/2016

    Nice tribute. I was aware of Ms. Dunn, but not personally familiar with her work. My curiosity has been piqued.

  3. Dan Cuoco 03:54pm, 05/15/2016

    Nice tribute to a great writer and even greater person.

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