An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes
by Lucas Schaefer
Issue #225 • February 21, 2017
November 2, 1974 isn’t a meaningful date to the younger residents of our ever-growing city. But to the Austinites who were present for Fight Night at the Coliseum that evening, it’s one they’ll never forget. Billed as The Next Battle of the Sexes, those who witnessed the spectacle now refer to it as The Bludgeoning. On the thirtieth anniversary, The Observer’s MICHAEL ROSENBERG sits down with the key players, and revisits “an idea whose time would never come again.”
Mack Wexler (Judge, Texas Boxing Commission, 1966-1995): The problem was there were about nine serious female fighters in Texas in 1973, and Holly Hendrix had whupped them all. No one wanted to get in the ring with her.
Denise “The Pitbull” Jacobs: The bitch knocks me out in Dodd City. She knocks me out in Sweetwater. She sends me to the ER in Tioga, population four-oh-nothing, with a subdural hematoma that damn near killed me.
Susannah “Black Magic” Russell: First time we fight, I’m seventeen. Seventeen! I don’t have the muscle yet. And I’m facing this girl’s left hook over and over, for thirty dollars, win lose or draw?
Lucas Schaefer received an M.F.A. from the New Writers Project at UT-Austin. He lives in Austin with his husband, and is at work on a novel-in-stories about an Austin boxing gym. You can find him on Twitter @LucasESchaefer. “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes” is his first published story.
Patrick Ryan on An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes
When “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes” showed up at the office and I gave it an initial read, I spent the first few pages reminding myself that I was reading a work of fiction and not an actual oral history. Once I wrapped my head around that, I became drawn in by one of the biggest casts of characters I’ve ever encountered in a short story—each voice distinctive, each character a building block in the recreation of a historic (fictitious) event: the legendary 1974 battle between Holly Hendrix and Terry Tucker. The story is as compelling as it is funny, as infused with personality as it is charged with spot-on observations about the way we regard gender, power, and ambition. We’re delighted to be ushering it into the world, and we’re even more delighted that this is the first publication by a talent we are most certainly going to be hearing more from in the future: Lucas Schaefer.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
To me, the beauty of linked stories is that a supporting player in one piece always has the potential to become the star later on. I teach middle school U.S. history, and this is at the heart of so much of what we talk about in class: Who gets remembered and why? Who is deemed “worthy” of a chapter, and who is relegated to the footnotes? And what if those footnotes tell a truer story than what’s in the main body of the text?
The writing of this piece became a metaphor for the questions that obsess me at my desk and in my classroom, in that it started as an exploration of, Who is this Terry Tucker guy? Then as the purportedly supporting characters came to life—the female boxers in particular—they started to take over the story. So even in what was intended as Terry’s story, he still had to earn his real estate.
As for the Next Battle of the Sexes conceit, I don’t know exactly how I decided on it. I’ve watched a lot of 30 for 30s and read a lot of magazine oral histories, and once I started playing with that oral history format, it just seemed natural. Obviously Terry would fight a woman in a boxing match. What else would that dope be doing in Austin in 1974?
I’m sure he said it more diplomatically—I’m very sensitive. But his point was that I was allowing Holly’s circumstances—she’s a lesbian in a homophobic time and place—to define her, without doing the hard work of figuring out who she was. Once I started to do that work—where she came from, what her love life was like, all of that stuff I’d avoided—that’s when the story started to snap into focus.
As for the time period, I was born in ’82 so I did have to Google my way back to the Seventies. I got very caught up in what musical Allan should be staging at the start of the story. It was Jesus Christ Superstar in one draft. Something called Via Galactica in another. I settled on Joseph because I fell in love with the idea that Allan included live sheep in his show. The more research I did, the clearer it became that Allan would’ve had to have been a pretty early adopter to stage Joseph in the U.S. when he did. But the sheep! Kill your darlings and all that, but I was keeping those sheep.
The last time I went to see Goodwyn was maybe six months before he died. He had emphysema and had lost a lot of weight since our last visit, and he made some comment to the effect of, “The end is nigh.” We sit at his kitchen table and chat for a bit, and as I’m getting up to leave Goodwyn tells me he’d like me to make him a promise. Given the context this felt like a heavy moment. “When you publish your first book,” he says, “don’t dare send it to me.” Keep in mind, I hadn’t even started graduate school at this point and was nowhere near attempting to write a book, let alone craft a readable short story. Goodwyn patted me on the back and motioned toward the door. “You tell me where to find it and make me pay for it myself.”