Rings: On the Life and Family of a Southern Fighter

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9780374250478: Rings: On the Life and Family of a Southern Fighter

A biography of black southern boxer Collis Phillips chronicles the triumphs and tragedies of one man as he struggles against racism, poverty, and family problems to make his dreams come true.

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From the Author:

When I envisioned writing this book, I thought it would be about the questionable appeals of boxing and about racial differences. While writing it, I discovered it is more concerned with the limits of those appeals and of those differences, a book primarily about human relations and family. In portraying Collis and his family-in particular, his daughter Gloria, his son Alvin, and his grandson Alvin Jr.-I tried to show that their astonishing toughness, vitality, and essential nobility are more important than their inevitable flaws and contradictions as ordinary people.

I think of what I wrote as a vast found-poem, a large true-story composed of interrelated smaller ones. One of these smaller stories is a rendering of myself as participant narrator. It felt necessary and only fair that I try to open my own character to the scrutiny I applied to the other people who figure more prominently in the larger story. I'm not satisfied I was successful in this effort in self-reflection, but it is the reason the work sometimes seeks to earn its authority by simultaneously constructing, and deconstructing, itself.

Twelve years in the gathering, writing, and shaping, Rings aspires to reach and dramatize the fiction that lives within fact. I hope it finds readers who will experience, as I did in writing it, evidence suggesting that life also is art, the most precious art.

From the Inside Flap:

In this momentous debut, Randolph Bates finds in the daily lives of one American family the pathos and drama we usually associate with the finest fiction. Rings takes as its protagonist Collis Phillips, a black man who, one generation away from slavery, managed to turn a youth of caddying, shoeshining, and running bootlegged whiskey into a career as a successful boxer in New Orleans during the days of Jim Crow. But by the time Randolph Bates first met him in 1979 Collis Phillips was facing more difficult obstacles. Shot and seriously injured by one of his own daughters while at the top of his game as a trainer, Phillips had endured the suicide of one son and the long-term incarceration of two others, one of them a boxing champion, in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, one of the most dangerous maximum-security prisons in the country.

Over the next ten years, Randolph Bates followed Collis Phillips and his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and even great great grandchildren, not only as a biographer but as a friend. After his firsthand experience of boxing in the gym, Bates watched the Phillipses triumph in the ring; later, he sat at the trials of some of the Phillips men and sat at the funerals of others. He saw at close range the rigors of poverty, racism, and neglect. He witnessed, too, in one of Collis's daughters and in one of his grandsons in particular, the strength and resilience of a family that has suffered and survived.

. . . Rings discloses the heart of American heroism in people who have had little chance to stake their claim to the American dream. With a historian's eye for detail and a poet's graceful style, Randolph Bates has written a shattering multigenerational saga of urban American life.

{First serial to Grand Street.}

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux (T) (1992)
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