PERSONAL: Born in NY.
ADDRESSES: Home—Boulder, CO. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Author, sportswriter, and journalist for television and magazines.
AWARDS, HONORS: Emmy Award, 1988, for coverage of Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, and 1996, for coverage of Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.
The Last Serious Thing: A Season at the Bullfights, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992.
The Match: Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton: HowTwo Outsiders—One Black, the Other Jewish—Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History, Amistad (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Sports Illustrated, Travel & Leisure, and New York Times Magazine.
SIDELIGHTS: The world of women's tennis in the 1950s bears little resemblance to the fast-paced, highly paid, celebrity-driven sport of today. Now, talented and charismatic players can rise to the status of wealthy superstars, regardless of race, religion, or background. Then, elitism, racism, and religious discrimination impeded some of the sport's most talented athletes, depriving them of recognition, denying them any enduring material rewards for their efforts, and deliberately ignoring hard-won games and harder-won legacies. In The Match: Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton: How Two Outsiders—One Black, the Other Jewish—Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History, Emmy Award-winning journalist and freelance sportswriter Bruce Schoenfeld recounts the story of pioneering players Gibson and Buxton, who broke through deeply entrenched barriers of discrimination to become champion players and lifelong friends. The pair "had something in common other than a desire to play great tennis: They were outsiders, anathema to the exclusivism inherent in the sport's infrastructure," observed Richard Deitsch in Sports Illustrated.
Gibson was an African-American born in South Carolina and raised in Harlem. She spent many years playing on the African-American tournament circuit before beginning, slowly, to earn shots at major tournaments and titles. Her personality was brash, and she displayed a touch of arrogance, character traits that worked to her disadvantage while she struggled toward the white-dominated tennis hierarchy. Still, her tremendous athletic talent and phenomenal tennis skill, as well as her pure determination, kept her moving forward. "Schoenfeld's research reveals how complex a person Gibson was, and what a toll her pioneering took on her," commented Grace Lichtenstein in the Washington Post Book World.
Buxton, in contrast to Gibson, was a Jewish girl from a wealthy British family, born in South Africa and transplanted to North London. Although an excellent player who could win matches, she did not possess Gibson's natural abilities. Even while she was rising through the tennis ranks, Buxton kept her day job as a clerk in a London tennis store. Throughout the book, Schoenfeld "paints a well-rounded portrait of a girl raised in a secular Jewish household, without great natural athletic ability, but who managed to ascend the tennis ranks largely thanks to her sheer determination," Lichtenstein remarked.
Buxton and Gibson met in 1955 while traveling through India on a U.S. State Department-sponsored exhibition tour. At the time, Gibson was considering quitting tennis to join the Army, but Buxton prevailed upon her to stick with the sport. As doubles partners, the two won doubles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon championships in 1956. Buxton's career was eventually sidelined by a wrist injury, but Gibson continued on to win the French Open in 1956, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1957, and all three tournaments in 1958.
Gibson, once the most famous woman in sports, left a legacy that included bringing racial integration to her chosen sport. She was the first African-American woman to play at Wimbledon, and she became the first African-American tennis player to win a major sports title. Her accomplishments did not equal material success, however. Near the end of her life, suffering from ill health and poverty, she phoned Buxton for one last goodbye—she had decided to take her own life. But Buxton, in a gesture symbolic of their decades-long friendship, talked Gibson out of any rash moves, assisted her financially, and brought her situation to the attention of prominent tennis officials who could help her.
With his book, Schoenfeld "does a valuable service by bringing new light to Gibson's achievements and to her remarkable relationship with Buxton," commented Deitsch. "Schoenfeld succeeds in solidly depicting the two women as they blazed through the tennis scene of the '50s, their friendship growing ever stronger," stated a Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that the book is "often poignant," and called it "an important contribution in spreading the legacy of Gibson, a woman worth remembering."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic, April, 1992, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Last Serious Thing: A Season at the Bullfights, p. 115.
Booklist, May 15, 2004, Alan Moores, review of TheMatch: Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton, p. 1590.
Chicago Tribune, July 21, 2004, Anne E. Stein, review of The Match, p. 6.
Essence, September, 2004, "Playing to Win," review of The Match, p. 140.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2004, review of The Match, p. 383.
Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Kathy Ruffle, review of The Match, p. 119.
Publishers Weekly, March 15, 2004, review of TheMatch, p. 61.
Sports Illustrated, June 21, 2004, Richard Deitsch, review of The Match, p. Z11.
Washington Post Book World, June 6, 2004, Grace Lichtenstein, review of The Match, p. T8.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 18, 2004), Robert Doerschuk, review of The Match.
Mizel Center for Arts and Culture Web site,http://www.mizelcenter.org/ (November 18, 2004), "Bruce Schoenfeld."*