For this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” I interviewed Amanda Ottaway, author of a fantastic new memoir entitled The Rebounders: A Division I Basketball Journey.
The book describes Ottaway’s experiences as an average Division I women’s college basketball player in the 21st century. She played at Davidson College and has since become an accomplished and widely-published journalist.
In our interview, Ottaway and I discuss her writing process for the book, relocating from Pennsylvania to the South for college, and her all-time starting five, which includes a well-known Davidson alum with whom she would play pickup basketball.
Clayton Trutor (CT): When did it first strike you that you wanted to write about your experiences as a Division 1 college basketball player?
Amanda Ottaway (AO): During the recruiting process I couldn’t find much reading material on what I was experiencing, even though I knew I wasn’t alone. So all through college I kept notes on the experience, but the idea of writing a book about it was kind of an abstract dream at that point. Every time I called my parents in college to talk about basketball they’d say, “Write it down and put it in your book someday.” So I took that seriously. A few years later, thanks to a Davidson dad and mentor named Robert Strauss, I stumbled into an opportunity to put a proposal together, and that momentum got everything going.
CT: Can you describe the process of writing The Rebounders?
AO: It was hard work and also the most fun I’ve ever had working. I read a lot about the history of women’s basketball, at Davidson in particular. College archivist Jan Blodgett helped me so much with the research; librarians are the best! Then I spent five weeks driving around the country interviewing my teammates where they live now, puzzling together our memories of our college experience. I kept a pretty regular 9-6ish writing schedule every day, six or seven days a week, for the year I wrote the manuscript. I had already written a proposal and planned the structure, so from there it was just one chapter at a time.
CT: Did you read any memoirs that had a particular influence on your approach to writing the book?
AO: Memoirs get a lot of flak, but I have always loved them. Kate Fagan’s The Reappearing Act, another book written by a former Division I women’s basketball player, was the kind of voice I was going for in mine -- like you’re telling stories over beers or pizza. A friend bought me Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir one year for Christmas and it’s been my memoir bible ever since. Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle has been a favorite for years. In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais isn’t quite a memoir, but it’s a seminal work in the women’s basketball genre and I have loved it for more than half my life.(I really like women writers.) Others I didn’t get into until later: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez.
CT: You grew up in Pennsylvania but attended college in North Carolina. What surprised you the most about living in North Carolina?
AO: I found southerners’ approach to snowstorms pretty hilarious. I remember during my freshman year watching a bulldozer try to plow I-77. Also, Cheerwine is not alcohol.
CT: As a journalist, you’ve written about a wide range of topics. Do you find writing about sports more or less challenging than other topics that you’ve covered?
AO: There’s always something going on that’s deeper than sports, so when I write about sports I’m generally trying to use it as a lens through which to view another story. Some athletes, unfortunately, inflict violence on women; other athletes survive it. They fight for racial justice, for gender and LGBTQ equity. There are complex team and coach and economic power dynamics, there are body image issues and brain injuries with serious consequences. Patriotism, nationalism, capitalism. There are athletes playing through grief and injuries and pregnancy and poverty and all these human experiences. When people complain that politics should stay out of sports -- I think that’s a really privileged argument. Sports have always been political, and I believe it’s more important than ever to pay attention.
CT: Who would be your starting five of favorite basketball players of all time?
AO: Great question. Babe Didrikson, who played in the first half of the 20th century. Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Pat Summitt, all goddesses. And Stephen Curry because he wouldn’t be a ballhog like most dudes who play with women.
CT: Where are your favorite places to watch a basketball game?
AO: Davidson, of course. Saint Francis University. Saint John Fisher College. The Hollidaysburg YMCA and Hollidaysburg High School. Anywhere any of my brothers or my dad are playing.
CT: You had the opportunity to play a game against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Can you describe that experience?
AO: We took a really, really long bus ride from North Carolina and got creamed by both Xavier and Cincinnati. You can read more in Chapter 4!
CT: When you hear the word “Cincinnati,” you think ___________.
AO: I have cousins in the Cincinnati suburbs and Covington, Kentucky whom I adore, so I think about them.
CT: What advice would you give to someone who is considering writing a book.
AO: Find other folks who have written books and listen to them speak, ask them specific questions. Find an agent if you can -- that person is your biggest advocate and your guiding light in the weird, crazy publishing world. Surround yourself with books (and people) you love and admire. Sometimes, when you’re making stuff, you’re focused so hard on pushing work out of you that you forget to take it in, so make time to read!
Amanda Ottaway’s The Rebounders is available now and you must go buy it immediately.
Follow Amanda Ottaway on Twitter as well: @amandaottaway
While you’re at it, follow me too: @ClaytonTrutor