Willa Cather and Don DeLillo are literary names not primarily associated with sports writing.
However, Cather, who attended the University of Nebraska and was an avid football fan, penned in 1894 a short ghost story about football titled "The Fear That Walks at Noonday." In 1997, DeLillo’s “Underworld” was famously framed by the 1951 National League Championship game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
A new exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center titled “Sport and Literature” is looking to highlight some famous writers’ not-so-well-known connection to sports including works by Cather, DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Norman Mailer and more.
Curator Megan Barnard said that while going through the center’s collections she began to notice sports as an overlooked theme in many famous writers’ works. Typically, they tie sports to more complex themes.
“Writers have used sport in a way to look more deeply into the complexities of life and to explore topics such as relationships and friendships and death and struggle and race and politics and other social factors," Barnard says. “So literature about sport is about so much more than sports itself.”
She points to DeLillo’s “Underworld” as an example.
Barnard says DeLillo uses the historical sports moment when Giants player Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard round the world” – the home run that won the Giants the National League Championship – to show how deeply it touched people.
“DeLillo uses that moment in baseball history as a way to show how people connected in a really unique way,” she said. “This one exciting moment brought together really, really different types of people from very different groups in society.”
The exhibition is open now and runs through August 4 at the Harry Ransom Center.