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Gardner, Leonard 1934-

GARDNER, Leonard 1934-


Born 1934, in Stockton, CA.


Home—Northern California. Agent—c/o Author Mail, University of California Press, 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720.


Writer; worked briefly as a boxer.


National Book Award nomination, 1969, for Fat City.


Fat City (novel; also see below), Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1969, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1996.

Fat City (screenplay; adapted from his book of the same name), Columbia TriStar, 1972.

Contributor to journals, including Paris Review, Esquire, and Southwest Review.


Fat City was adapted as a film in 1972, directed by John Huston and released by Columbia TriStar.


Although he has written only one novel, Leonard Gardner has earned enduring literary fame for his book's depiction of the boxing world in mid-twentieth century Stockton, California. Fat City, which Gardner later adapted as a screenplay, was named in Sports Illustrated as one of the hundred best sports books of all time.

Fat City is set among the shabby tenements and seedy bars of Gardner's home town of Stockton. Its characters are has-beens and never-weres who still cling to their dreams of achieving glory in the ring, despite the ravages of alcohol, loneliness, and bruising bouts. The plot follows the efforts of Billy Tully, an alcoholic ex-boxer, to nurture the career of a new young fighter. "I wanted to show boxing as it really is," Gardner told an interviewer for Life magazine, "not an exciting piece of entertainment but as the sport of the poorest element of our society."

Critical reception of the novel was emphatically positive. In the New York Times Book Review Patricia T. O'Connor praised it for its "detached and lyrical" tone, as well as the extraordinary accuracy of its setting. In a Los Angeles Times review quoted on the University of California Press Web site, Keith S. Felton wrote that "Gardner's careful characterizing eye gleans apt images to build the stark reality of human beings on the aimless loose." Novelists such as Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, and Denis Johnson hailed Fat City as a masterpiece. In a later piece for Johnson described reading the novel at age eighteen or nineteen and being profoundly influenced: it was "so precisely written and giving such value to its words that I felt I could almost read it with my fingers, like Braille," he noted, adding that he was so excited by the book that he discussed it constantly with another aspiring writer. "We talked about every paragraph of Fat City one by one and over and over," he wrote, "the way couples sometimes reminisce about each moment of their falling in love." The novel was nominated for a National Book Award in 1969.

The film version of Fat City, however, did not attract as much popular enthusiasm as the book. Nevertheless, it earned great acclaim from critics, who suggested that its refusal to sugarcoat its story may have affected viewers' enjoyment. Many movie critics consider Fat City to be John Huston's finest film. Guardian contributor Derek Malcolm included it on his list of the hundred greatest movies, considering it Huston's best cinematic achievement.



Atlantic Monthly, September, 1969.

Commonweal, December 26, 1969.

Guardian (Manchester, England), August 24, 2000, Derek Malcolm, "John Huston: Fat City."

Life, August 29, 1969.

New York Times Book Review, December 28, 1986, Patricia T. O'Conner, review of Fat City, p. 28.

Sports Illustrated, December 16, 2002, "The Top One Hundred Sports Books of All Time," p. 130.

Washington Post Book World, September 7, 1969.

ONLINE, (June 23, 2003), Denis Johnson, "Personal Best: Fat City by Leonard Gardner."

University of California Press, (June 23, 2003), "Leonard Gardner, Fat City. "*

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