9 Stories About Sports, Games, and Gamesmanship

From Tara Ison and Rion Scott to Kawai Washburn and Delaney Nolan, stories that capture the heart and heat of competition

If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.

Obviously, Electric Lit’s day-to-day work banter is full of intellectually high- and fabulously low-brow literary and pop-culture references. But we also spend a lot of time talking about sports. Our discussions run the gamut from the NBA to cycling because competition of all kinds makes for great narratives. Epic sagas that twist and turn for all nine innings generate as much suspense and thrill as stories about gambles rolled, shots taken, and competing truths.

In the sporting spirit, we’ve unlocked 9 stories from the Recommended Reading archives that capture the heat of competition and the thrill — sometimes sinister, sometimes exhilarating — of the games people play.

Baseball

Home Run” by Steven Milhauser

Recommended by Electric Literature

In a long, single sentence, Milhauser tells a baseball story that is as much about the charm of a certain kind of Americana as it is about the sport itself. As a ball soars through the air (straight through the galaxy!) the excitement and anticipation of the crowd watching seems to soar just as high. This is a story for day dreamers and baseball-lovers alike.

Basketball

On the Swish and Roar” by Kawai Strong Washburn

Recommended by Electric Literature

Sibling rivalry can have absolutely nothing to do with organized sport. This story opens with a bust-up between Dean, the star of the high school basketball team, his younger brother Noa, the brightest kid in every class he takes, and their mother. After the fight, when Dean’s performance takes a nose-dive in the run-up to a critical, college-scholarship-deciding game, this becomes less a story about sport, and more an examination of the identities we protect, and the positions we play in our families.

Gambling

Everything You Want Right Here” by Delaney Nolan

Recommended by Electric Literature

Gambling is not a sport, it’s a game of chance and luck, but the life of the gambler shares an important thing with the life of a sportsman: it is lonely. This Pushcart Prize-winning original fiction story is about a married couple living in the foreseeable future in a casino called Les Sables. Outside the adult playground, there is only desert, nowhere to go. Despite winning big on their first night, we find that Natalie, the woman, longs for a way out. And it is through her longing that Nolan brings loneliness to the surface.

Fetch

Ball” by Tara Ison

Recommended by Rick Moody

In the title story of Ison’s collection, the narrator, who lives alone in a big house with a jacuzzi, becomes obsessed with Tess, her cockapoo dog. Tess, meanwhile, is obsessed with her Ball — or balls of any kind — and insists the game is played during any and all moments: when her owner is trying to sleep, trying to have sex, or trying to soak in the jacuzzi. The narrator’s lover competes with Tess for her attention, and we, the reader get the creeping sense that our protagonist’s obsessive love for her dog might not be so pure.

9 Stories About Exploring Extremes

Chess

202 Checkmates” by Rion Amilcar Scott

Recommended by Daniel José Older

A young girl quickly becomes enthralled with the game of chess after her father teaches her the ways of the game. Of course, it’s also the time with her father and his undivided attention that she finds thrilling. When she finds a new competitor in the park — one who might be better than her teacher — more essential life lessons arise about sorrow, joy, cheating, and how we define victory.

Bullfighting

Mariachi” by Juan Villoro

Recommended by George Braziller Press

“The story investigates masculinity and authenticity,” writes Lexi Freiman, editor of Juan Villoro’s collection The Guilty, “using the beloved ‘national prejudice’ that is the mariachi.” It is an unfortunate truth that society often uses sport and athletic prowess as a means of affirming—authenticating, even — a man’s masculinity. Juan is a national celebrity with a phallic insecurity, a mariachi often compared to a bullfighter. Through superlative penis jokes and anecdotes about the excessive courtesy of porn stars, Villoro’s tale trounces stereotypes.

Baseball

Miller Field” by Tyler Sage

Recommended by Leigh Newman

There is something of reconciliation in true sportsmanlike behavior. James is a talented, high school baseball player training under hitting coach Stubbs Chapman—who is both aging and dwindling in relevance in the baseball world. The boy and coach have a tense relationship, each refusing to recognize the talent of the other. When James returns to the town at 42, he runs into his old teacher, rival, coach, and nemesis, and finds that they are finally teammates.

Hawking

The Pilgrim Hawk” by Glenway Westcott

Recommended by Michael Cunningham

Hawking is one of those activities that is somewhere between sport and game; you might say it lives in the same realm as “fish & tackle shops” or “rod & gun clubs” — but usually in Europe, not the American West. While Alwyn Tower, an American expat, is staying with his French heiress friend in her home outside Paris, an itinerant Irish couple arrive with their hawk, Lucy. The hawk is restless and sullen, and as conversation and wine flow, the story becomes a meditation on captivity and something sport does not always allow for: independence.

Rowing

Supernova” by Dani Shapiro

Recommended by Electric Literature

Parenthood involves many competing elements, not the least of which is the tug-of-war that between the wants of a parent, and the needs of a child. In this story, a father, Shenkman has built himself a man cave in the form of a sparkling personal gym. His rowing machine is his refuge where he takes out his frustrations: that he can’t cross the distance between himself and his son, and that he can’t beat the time of another rower, Lindgren, his college friend who owns the same rowing machine program. In fact, Lindgren seems to have a lot of things Shenkman doesn’t, and from there the seeds of competitive obsession begin to grow.

More Like This

We Could All Use a Win This Summer

"Euro Cup, 2016" and "Reprise," two poems by Francisca Matos

Jun 28 - Francisca Matos

Hanif Abdurraqib Celebrates Black Performance and Black Joy in “A Little Devil in America”

The author on the generation-spanning power of a Soul Train line

May 27 - Leah Johnson

Hot Vinyasa Flow for Crushing Self-Doubt

"Corpse Pose" and "Sun Salutation," two poems by Dobby Gibson

Jan 11 - Dobby Gibson
Thank You!