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February 10, 2011

Marc Aronson: On Basketball and the Writing of PICK-UP GAME

Posted by jordana

Marc Aronson is the author of all these books; take a look and be amazed! In PICK-UP GAME, he joins forces with some other YA heavyweights like Walter Dean Myers and Rita Williams-Garcia in a collection of stories that bring the game of basketball to life. 

Basketball is an addiction -- it gets into your blood. Everywhere in America there are baskets, courts, and people practicing. But the heart of basketball is in the city. Basketball is concrete, bent rims, and most of all the jazz dance, traffic jam of sidewalk city life. You never know who you will meet, who you will be up against, when you play pick up ball in the city. Charles Smith and I have each played our share of pick up games and we wanted to get that energy, that life, that can-you-top-this, where-did-that-move-come-from spark onto the pages of a book. I first suggested the germ of the idea for this book to Charles a decade ago, but neither of us took it further. Then, shortly before he won the Coretta Scott King prize for My People, we ran into each other, and he reminded me of the idea. This time we were not going to let it float like one of those dreams that sound good and go nowhere. Instead we started calling friends -- writers who we knew could capture the game on the page. Some we'd even played ball with (as I recall Bob Burleigh and I finished about even in our one-on-one, but ask him).

The challenge of the book was to find a format that would echo the game: Pick up means that while you wait to play, you see the previous game(s), but when you come out, it is a new shuffle of the deck. Some of the players have to go, or get tired, and -- at least where Charles and I usually play -- an individual has next, so he (or she) gets to pick a team, maybe grabbing the best losing player.

And so there are games within the game -- figuring out who is going to play. And then there are the flirtation games, the audience and player insult games, even the recruiter sizing up games. We wanted to create a book that had all of these cross currents and plot lines. So we made the book itself a kind of game -- each author had to wait to write his or her story until the previous one was in.

That was the only way the author would know who was on the court, who was waiting to play, what the time of day and feeling of the court needed to be. As the stories came in we were thrilled, because authors picked up players from previous games and gave them new stories, new twists to their character and their game -- exactly as it happens out on the court. We set the book at the West 4th street court in New York City -- where Charles not only had taken great photos, but had tapes of some of the sounds of the game. In fact if you listen to the audio book, you can get a taste of those real recordings of bball in The Cage.

We are pleased that people seem to like PICK-UP GAME, so we are at work on a new book that again weaves separate stories by a galaxy of great writers into a larger novel. Only this time, having explored basketball, we are on to another great game: growing up. This book is about Initiation -- those moments when, as a teenager, we cross a line, take a plunge, cross from one kind of person to another. Maybe in a year or so we can come back and tell you how that one worked out.
---Marc Aronson