Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Interview with Author of Wooden Biography

Barbara Olenyik Morrow is a journalist and author from Auburn, Indiana, who has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist for editorial writing. Her youth biography of novelist and conservationist Gene Stratton-Porter was published by the IHS Press in 2010. Morrow’s other books include From Ben-Hur to Sister Carrie, in which she profiled five Hoosier writers during Indiana’s golden age of literature, and A Good Night for Freedom, the well-received children’s picture book about the Underground Railroad and famed Hoosier abolitionists Levi and Catharine Coffin. Here she talks about her new youth biography of basketball coach John Wooden.
What inspired you to write about such an Indiana legend?
I was a student at Indiana University in the early 1970s when the UCLA Bruins—coached by John Wooden—dominated college basketball. Naturally, I rooted for the IU Hoosiers, especially when they played UCLA in the semifinal game of the NCAA tournament in St. Louis in 1973. Like other Hoosier fans, I was sorely disappointed when Wooden’s squad defeated IU, paving the way for the Bruins to win their ninth national title two days later. Nine national championships in a single decade—that’s what Wooden achieved that March.

Two years later, Wooden retired, triumphantly as ever, having just coached UCLA to its tenth national championship. At that point he moved off my radar screen, especially as IU Coach Bobby Knight began to make his mark on the game. IU won the national basketball title in 1976, the year after Wooden’s retirement, and the Knight-coached Hoosiers won championships again in 1981 and 1987. In the midst of all that Hoosier hoops frenzy, Wooden and the UCLA Bruins—in my limited worldview, at least—seemed “so yesterday.”

Then came June 2010. Coach Wooden died, just months shy of his 100th birthday. Media coverage of his passing was extensive, and tributes poured in from everywhere. President Obama remembered Wooden as “an incredible coach and an even better man.” As I followed the coverage, I became intrigued about the Hoosier roots of this coaching giant whom I had given little thought to since my college days. I read how he grew up on an Indiana farm with no electricity or indoor plumbing. I read how his father knocked the bottom out of a tomato basket and nailed it to the barn wall, while his mother stuffed rags in her black cotton hose and stitched them up to make a ball—all so he and his brother could play a game that was taking the Hoosier state by storm.  

I read, too, how Wooden loved poetry, studied Shakespeare and taught high school English. And how he always lived modestly and was revered for his decency and valued his Midwestern upbringing.

All of this grabbed me. I kept reading. And soon I was inspired to write Hardwood Glory.

How did you go about researching Wooden’s life?

As I said, I started by reading. I soaked up information from Wooden’s two autobiographies (They Call Me Coach and My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey) and delved into the many books written about his coaching philosophy, leadership style, and pearls of homespun wisdom. I then read biographies of athletes who played for Wooden (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, among them), immersed myself in Indiana high school basketball history, and researched the evolution of college basketball and post-season tournaments.

Given that Wooden lived throughout most of the twentieth century (he was born in 1910), I knew I had to give historical context to his life. That led me to bone up on major events and cultural forces in each decade of the 1900s—from America’s entry into World War I, the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression to civil-rights struggles and turmoil wrought by the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal.  Race relations is another subject I researched. Wooden grew up in a time and place when segregation was widely accepted, with “color barriers” the norm in sports and other aspects of American life. I wanted to understand the various ways those barriers were broken and to explore Wooden’s forward-thinking views on race.

My research inevitably led to travel. I spent considerable time in Morgan County, Indiana, Wooden’s birthplace. I visited the various communities in which he grew up (Martinsville, Hall, Monrovia and Centerton), read family gravestones, and studied old newspapers and yearbooks in Martinsville’s public library. Recent research by Morgan County residents Curtis H. Tomak, Joanne Raetz Stuttgen, and Norma J. Tomak served me well; they uncovered new information that corrected often-told accounts of Wooden’s early life, and I made of a point – following my own digging—to present the corrected accounts. Wherever I traveled, I interviewed people.  In South Bend, for instance, I was fortunate to interview men who had played for Wooden at Central High School when he coached there in the 1930s and early 1940s. Likewise, I was fortunate to interview Gary, IN, resident Kevin J. Walker, who shared a journal written by his father Clarence Walker, a member of Wooden’s Sycamore squad at Indiana State Teachers College in the late 1940s—a pivotal time in the integration of college basketball.

My research would not have been complete without a trip to Los Angeles. There I had the pleasure of meeting Wooden’s daughter Nan, who invited me to her home where I viewed rooms full of family photos and Wooden memorabilia. I also spent time at UCLA, where Bill Bennett, an athletics department official, gave me access to a wealth of material and where I benefited from studying an exhibit in the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame. The exhibit, known as Wooden’s “den,” contains furnishings and personal items donated by his family and displayed exactly as they had been in his suburban Los Angeles condominium.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Steve Alford, UCLA’s newly named head coach at the time of my visit, granted me an interview. We talked about Alford’s Hoosier roots and how he lived in Martinsville in the early 1970s – a time when his father, Sam, coached the high school team. Young Alford spent afternoons hanging out in the very gym where Wooden had been a high school star decades earlier.

At my request, Coach Alford wrote the foreword to Hardwood Glory.

In doing your research, did you come across anything about Wooden that surprised you?

I had read that Wooden was highly competitive, but I did not realize the extent of his competitiveness until I researched his early years of coaching. I am indebted to Peter DeKever, a Mishawaka historian who drew my attention to a basketball game in January 1937 between the South Bend Central High School Bears, coached by Wooden, and the Mishawaka High School Cavemen, coached by Shelby S. Shake. The after-game court fireworks, as reported in a South Bend newspaper, revealed that Wooden was not someone to push around and that he definitely had a fiery side.

I also was surprised to learn about the intersection of the lives of Wooden, UCLA Bruin star center Bill Walton, President Richard Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman in the 1970s, before and after Watergate. If I’ve aroused your curiosity, good!
Why was Wooden such a successful coach?

He lived by the saying “failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and thus he made the most of basketball practices. He put his players through repetitive drills so that they instinctively executed “fundamentals” in games. He likewise put players through grueling physical workouts so that their superb conditioning enabled them to wear down opponents. Moreover, Wooden stressed teamwork. Drawing upon a shrewd understanding of human psychology, common sense, and his own deep-seated decency, he managed to tame egos and meld players into a unit that made them all look good. The team, not the individual, was the star.

Is it possible for any modern-day coach to match Wooden’s accomplishments?

I think not. Today players bolt to the professional ranks after a year or two of college, making it difficult for coaches to mold team unity and build upon lessons taught and strides made the previous year.

Any other comments regarding Coach Wooden?

It seems rather fitting that Indianapolis will host the 2015 NCAA Final Four Tournament. This March marks 40 years since Wooden made tournament history by coaching the UCLA Bruins to their 10th national championship, a men’s record that remains unrivaled. This year also marks 40 years since Wooden retired from the game at which he excelled throughout his long life, as first a player and then a coach. The very game, of course, that he learned to play . . . in Indiana.

Do you have an idea for your next book?

Ideas, yes. Always ideas. But nothing firm.




     


 




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Author Fair Set for December 6

More than seventy Hoosier authors will pack Eli Lilly Hall at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 West Ohio Street, Indianapolis, from noon to 4:00 p.m. Saturday, December 6, for the Indiana Historical Society's annual Holiday Author Fair. The event is free and open to the public.

Among the authors who will be on hand to sign their books are bestselling author Philip Gulley, basketball legend Bobby "Slick" Leonard, Indiana historian James H. Madison, mystery writer Terrence Faherty, pastry chef Paula Haney, and former Indiana poet laureate Norbert Krapf.

In addition, several IHS Press authors will be at the fair, including:

  • Richard D. Feldman, Family Practice Stories: Memories, Reflections, and Stories of Hoosier Family Doctors of the Mid-twentieth Century
  • Wes D. Gehring, Robert Wise: Shadowlands
  • John A. Beineke, Hoosier Public Enemy: A Life of John Dillinger
  • Barbara Olenyik Morrow, Hardwood Glory: A Life of John Wooden
  • Jennifer McSpadden, A Leaf of Voices: Stories of the American Civil War in the Words of Those Who Lived and Died, 1861-65
  • Kenneth L. Turchi, L. S. Ayres & Company: The Store at the Crossroads of America
  • Douglas A. Wissing, Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary
To help kick off the event, IHS Press author Beineke will give a talk on the life and career of Hoosier outlaw John Dillinger at 5:30 p.m. Friday, December 5, at the Indiana History Center.

The Life and Times of Coach John Wooden

The tenth volume in the Indiana Historical Society Press's celebrated Youth Biography Series examines the life of a man who helped define college basketball in the twentieth century and became an icon of American sports--John Wooden.

Written by Barbara Olenyik Morrow and featuring a foreword by UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford, Hardwood Glory: A Life of John Wooden, explores his life beginning from his birth in the small Indiana town of Martinsville near the start of the last century. His claim to fame came first as an accomplished athlete, helping his high school basketball team compete in three state championship games, then earning All-American honors three times in his home state as a starting guard at Purdue University. After briefly teaching high school English and coaching several sports in Dayton, Kentucky, Wooden returned to Indiana, where he launched a successful career coaching basketball at South Bend Central High School and later at Indiana State Teachers College (today Indiana State University) in Terre Haute.

In 1948, at age thirty-seven, Wooden moved west, as did many Americans in the post-World War II era. He took over the head basketball job at UCLA, a school with virtually no basketball tradition. He took his family and his coaching skills with him. He also took his midwestern values. For the next six decades he remained in Southern California, creating a basketball dynasty at UCLA and solidifying his place as one of the sporting world's greats. When he died on June 4, 2010, at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, he was four months shy of his hundredth birthday.

Wooden's success as a college coach was unprecedented and, in pure numbers, staggering. From 1964 to 1975, he led the UCLA Bruins men's basketball team to ten NCAA national basketball championships, including seven in a row--a feat that may never be matched. During that string of championships, he coached the Bruins to four perfect 30-0 seasons, a NCAA men's record that still stands. He also coached UCLA to an eighty-eight-game winning streak, yet another unrivaled record. Over the course of his twenty-seven seasons at UCLA, he mentored such All-Americans as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, earned the respect of legions of players, and inspired countless would-be roundballers and coaches alike.

In 1973 Wooden was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, making him the first to be honored as both a player and a coach. (He received the honor as a player in 1960.) In 1977 college basketball's annual player-of-the-year award was named for him. The NCAA bestowed its highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt award, on Wooden in 1995. In 2003 President George W. Bush presented Wooden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.

Morrow is a journalist and author from Auburn, Indiana, who has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist for editorial writing. Her youth biography of novelist and conservationist Gene Stratton-Porter was published by the IHS Press in 2010. Morrow's other books include From Ben-Hur to Sister Carrie, in which she profiled fived Hoosier writers during Indiana's golden age of literature, and A Good Night for Freedom, a well-received children's picture book about the Underground Railroad and famed Hoosier abolitionists Levi and Catharine Coffin.

Hardwood Glory costs $17.95 and is available from the IHS Basile History Market.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Native Americans in the Old Northwest

What happened to the Indians of the Old Northwest Territory? Conflicting portraits emerge and answers often depend on who's telling the story, with each participant bending and stretching the truth to fit their own view of themselves and the world.

Written by Elizabeth O'Maley, Bones on the Ground presents biographical sketches and first-person narratives of Native Americans, Indian traders, Colonial and American leaders, and events that shaped the Indians' struggle to maintain possession of their tribal lands in the face of the widespread advancement of white settlement.

The book covers events and people in the Old Northwest Territory from before the American Revolution through the removal of the Miami from Indiana in 1846, including the Gnadenhutten Massacre, Little Turtle, William Wells, Fallen Timbers, the Treaty of Greenville, Tecumseh, the Battle of Tippecanoe, William Conner, Frances Slocum, the Potawatomi Trail of Death, and Jean Baptiste Richardville, among others.

As America's Indian policy was formed, and often enforced by the U.S. military, and white setters pushed further west, some Indians fought the white intruders, while others adopted their ways. In the end, most Indians were unable to hold their ground and the evidence of their presence now lingers only in found relics and strange-sounding place names.

A graduate of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, O'Maley worked after college as a school psychologist in Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne. She is also the author of the IHS Press book By Freedom's Light. Elizabeth O'Male died on May 20, 2014.

Bones on the Ground costs $16.95 and is available from the IHS Basile History Market.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Letters from Hoosier Soldiers of the Civil War

During the American Civil the Wabash Intelligencer and the Wabash Plain Dealer frequently printed letters from Wabash County men serving in the Union army. In A Leave of Voices Jennifer McSpadden has compiled the letters into a volume that gives fascinating insights into a bygone age. The letter writers are a remarkable cast of characters: young and old, soldiers, doctors, ministers, officers, enlisted men, newspaper men, and a fifteen-year-old printers’ devil who enlisted as a drummer boy.

Sometimes the letter writers themselves were grieving as they wrote their families that another family member was killed in battle or had succumbed to disease. There were the chaplains who not only often had to be the bearers of bad news, but also had to bring consolation and comfort to the men with whom they served. Officers also had the burden of writing to families with the dread news of loved one’s death. Most officers, in turn, were admired and respected by their men, and were deeply mourned when they fell in battle

These are not stories of generals or battle strategies, they are the stories of the ordinary soldiers and their everyday lives. They describe long tiring marches across state after state, crossing almost impossible terrain, facing shortages of rations and supplies, enduring extremes of weather where they froze one day and sweltered the next, and encountering guerrillas that harried the wagon trains.

The correspondents wrote of walking over the bodies of fallen comrades and foes alike, of mules and their wagons sinking into muddy roads that became like quicksand, of shipwrecks, and of former slaves. They wrote of marching by moonlight and of people and places they would never have imagined in their previously peaceful lives.

Today a resident of Wabash, McSpadden was born and grew up in England, where she was educated at boarding schools and obtained six general certificates of education from the University of London. While living in London, McSpadden, who has always had a keen interest in history, was a member of the Richard the Third Society. 

She has also worked as a volunteer at the Wabash County Historical Museum and is currently on the museum's board of directors. McSpadden worked as a reporter for the Wabash Plain Dealer from 1986 to 1997 and served as a guest columnist until 2010.

A Leaf of Voices costs $27.95 and is available from the IHS Basile History Market.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Crown Hill Book Honored

The IHS Press book Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary was a silver winner in the regional category at the annual IndieFab Book of the Year Awards for the best independent books of 2013 sponsored by Foreword Reviews.

Representing hundreds of independent and university presses of all sizes, the winners were selected after months of editorial deliberation over more than 1,500 entries in sixty categories. Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention awards were determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers and announced at a special program during the American Library Association annual conference in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Interview with Author of Dillinger Biography

During his career, John A. Beineke, author of the new IHS Press youth biography Hoosier Public Enemy: A Life of John Dillinger, has worked as professor of history at Arkansas State University, where today he is distinguished professor of educational leadership and curriculum. Beineke has also been a public school teacher, university administrator, and program director in leadership and education at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Here Beineke talks about how he came to write about Dillinger.

What inspired you to write about such a controversial figure in Indiana and American history?

My dad was an Indianapolis News paperboy during the 1930s and told stories of how John Dillinger would slip in and out of Indianapolis and Mooresville to visit family. And, of course, the newspapers he carried told of the bank robberies and escapes. I never forgot hearing those stories. I also wanted there to be a book on Dillinger for young adults and to place him in historical context--the Great Depression, the rise of the New Deal and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and  the role technology played, from high-powered automobiles and weapons to the scientific method used to rob banks. There is a strong move in public schools to include more nonfiction in the curriculum. A biography about a figure who was emblematic of the time he lived and also a figure who captured the public’s imagination both then and now seemed a great match with Dillinger.

Was it difficult to separate the facts from the myth when writing about Dillinger?

Yes, on some stories where there were multiple versions I had to ask myself “Did this really happen?” Some sources would leave out a certain bank robbery, have him in two states at the same time, or not know where he was for a period of time. I tried to use eyewitness sources as to the bank robberies. Most people knew if it was Dillinger or not--and for most, such an event was the most exciting thing that ever happened in their lives. Some have said he robbed a bank or two in Kentucky, but I could not verify that. When I didn’t know where he was I said so. A good example of “myths” would be the “fake” gun used to break out of the Crown Point Jail. Some say it was real, others say it was carved from soap, but most think it was carved from wood and blackened with shoe polish. I put the different theories out there with the evidence I found and will let the reader decide.

How was Dillinger treated by newspapers during his prime--as a villain or a “Robin Hood” type of figure?

Good question.  At first a “Robin Hood.” Letting a farmer keep the money on the bank counter saying it belonged to the man, yet at the same time emptying the safe. Whose money was that? The Mooresville newspaper was sympathetic to him for a while, but that may have been that the citizens respected his hard-working father. After the policeman was shot during an East Chicago bank job in early 1934 and Dillinger was accused of being the gunman, things turned sour in the press. (It is still disputed he was even in East Chicago that day.)  Even up until the end, though, many people liked him because they didn’t like banks.  The storyline that he spent far too long in prison (nine years) for a botched robbery and that caused him to “go bad” also gained him support in eyes of the public. Finally, being shot in the back didn’t seem fair to some. But after fourteen months of robberies and escapes, almost all newspapers thought him a villain rather than a hero.

Why do you think Dillinger continues to be such a fascinating figure?

His exploits, his personality, and the fact he remains an icon in popular culture all testify to the ongoing public fascination with him. The name Dillinger even sounds a dangerous. He is both hero and desperado. This book’s cover makes that point with his menacing countenance staring at the reader while there is a simultaneous passing resemblance to movie star of the era of Humphrey Bogart. Other examples abound. There have been about a dozen books on him over the past fifty years. Four motion pictures--the latest starring Johnny Depp--and also several documentaries. There is a  Dillinger tour that begins in the Wisconsin lodge where he escaped FBI agent Melvin Purvis and then moves to Chicago’s Biograph Theater the scene of his death. The tour ends in Indianapolis at Crown Hill Cemetery, the location of his grave. There is a Dillinger Museum in Lake County  in northern Indiana. A few months back Dillinger's father’s farmhouse in Mooresville appeared in a real estate advertisement and the home wasn’t even for sale. Earlier this year a political commentator on NBC, when asked if Hillary Clinton was going to run for president, answered, “Does Dillinger rob banks?” He used the present tense as if Dillinger were still alive! And he didn’t have to identify the reference to Dillinger, dead eighty years in July.

What is your next project about?

I am working on a long scholarly piece on Indiana University president Herman Wells’s leadership and how he built IU by supporting controversial researchers, such as the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. There are two other Indiana ideas bouncing around in my mind. One would be to focus on the early years of World War I flying ace Captain EddieRickenbacker. His strong connection to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as both racer and track owner plus his involvement in the automotive industry of the 1920s. While from Ohio, not Indiana, Rickenbacker had a flamboyant and adventuresome personality and might make for a good young adult book. The other thought I have had is something on the theme of Indiana gas stations. My grandfather and father owned a “Hoosier Pete” filling station in Marion, Indiana from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s.  Maybe a pictorial book with commentary on the role these stations played in popular culture from the 1920s to the present. 



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dillinger Book Selected for National Book Festival

The Indiana Center for the Book has selected the IHS Press youth biography Hoosier Public Enemy: A Life of John Dillinger by John A. Beineke to represent Indiana at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. The book will be featured on the Festival's "Discover Great Places through Reading Map."

The book selection is based on criteria where each states selects one title of fiction or nonfiction that is relevant to the state or by an author from the state and that is a good read for children or young adults. The map is distributed at the Pavilion of the States at the Festival.

"This selection is a unique opportunity for students to learn more about history's most notorious Hoosier," said Suzanne Walker, Indiana Center for the Book director. "While most books about John Dillinger are scholarly or adult-themed in nature, Hoosier Public Enemy tells this compelling crime drama in a way that is educational and entertaining for young readers."

The National Book Festival will be held on the National Mall on Saturday, August 30. It will feature award-winning authors, poets, and illustrators in several pavilions dedicated to categories of literature. Festival-goers can meet and hear firsthand from their favorite authors, get books signed, have photos taken with mascots and storybook characters, and participate in a variety of learning activities.

The Indiana Center for the Book is a program of the Indiana State Library and an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The Center promotes interest in reading, writing, literacy, libraries, and Indiana's literary heritage by sponsoring events and serving as an information resource at the state and local level. The Center supports both the professional endeavors and the popular pursuits of Indiana's residents toward reading and writing.