“An ace of a novel, an ace of a writer.” —Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Red Dirt is the story of Jaxie Skinner, an unlikely professional tennis player from a blue-collar family in the sticks of rural Georgia who takes up the game at the age of three when his father scrapes a court out of the red clay behind their farmhouse. He is a natural, rising to the top of junior tennis, and at eighteen has great success at the French Open. He falls as quickly as he rose, however, when troubles back home and injuries arise. He quits the game for years, but then mounts a comeback, struggling for almost a decade in the unglamorous, low-paying minor leagues of tennis, often living out of his van, before getting one last big shot. A fascinating study of tennis, its demands and tactics, as well as a look at the insular and often selfish character required to reach the pinnacle of the sport, Red Dirt is the Rocky of tennis novels.
PRAISE FOR RED DIRT
“Starnes spins a tale with the pace and power of a Rafael Nadal forehand.” —Jay Jennings, editor of Tennis and the Meaning of Life: A Literary Anthology of the Game
“Alright, literate tennis fans, it’s time to put down the remote and set aside those stat sheets and take an alternately amusing and inspiring trip from the top of the pro tennis barrel to the bottom—and back again. Joe Samuel Starnes’s book radiates an aficionado’s understanding of not just how the game is played (on and off the court) but what it takes to triumph in the hyper-competitive pro game.” —Peter Bodo, Tennis magazine senior writer, ESPN columnist, and co-author of Pete Sampras’s autobiography, A Champion’s Mind
“Red Dirt is solid pleasure. Starnes knows what it is to compete, to hope to be made whole by competition, to overcome not just your opponent but your own unquiet. This is a tennis novel, but any athlete—no, any reader—will learn a lot and enjoy the learning.” —John Casey, author of Spartina, winner of the National Book Award
“Red Dirt isn’t just a terrific sports novel; it’s a terrific novel, period. Jaxie Skinner is a complex and compelling character, and Starnes gives him a clear, fresh, lively voice.” —Michael Griffith, author of Spikes
Joe Samuel “Sam” Starnes was born in Alabama, grew up in Cedartown, Georgia, and has lived in either New Jersey or Philadelphia since 2000. Red Dirt is his third novel. His first novel, Calling, was published in 2005, and was reissued in 2014 as an e-book by Mysterious Press.com/Open Road. NewSouth Books published his novel Fall Line in November 2011, and it was selected to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Best of the South” list. He has had journalism appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and various magazines, as well as essays, short stories, and poems in literary journals. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, an MA in English from Rutgers University in Newark, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. He was awarded a fellowship to the 2006 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He works in the administration at Widener University and has taught writing courses at Widener, Rowan University, and Saint Joseph’s University.
For more, visit www.joesamuelstarnes.com or follow him on Twitter @jsamuelstarnes
Far more than a superb memoir about the highest levels of professional tennis, Open is the engrossing story of a remarkable life.
Andre Agassi had his life mapped out for him before he left the crib. Groomed to be a tennis champion by his moody and demanding father, by the age of twenty-two Agassi had won the first of his eight grand slams and achieved wealth, celebrity, and the game’s highest honors. But as he reveals in this searching autobiography, off the court he was often unhappy and confused, unfulfilled by his great achievements in a sport he had come to resent. Agassi writes candidly about his early success and his uncomfortable relationship with fame, his marriage to Brooke Shields, his growing interest in philanthropy, and—described in haunting, point-by-point detail—the highs and lows of his celebrated career.
In 2004, in a stunning upset against the two-time defending champion Serena Williams, seventeen-year-old Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon, becoming an overnight sensation. Out of virtual anonymity, she launched herself onto the international stage. “Maria Mania” was born. Sharapova became a name and face recognizable worldwide. Her success would last: she went on to hold the number-one WTA ranking multiple times, to win four more Grand Slam tournaments, and to become one of the highest-grossing female athletes in the world.
And then—at perhaps the peak of her career—Sharapova came up against the toughest challenge yet: during the 2016 Australian Open, she was charged by the ITF with taking the banned substance meldonium, only recently added to the ITF’s list. The resulting suspension would keep her off the professional courts for fifteen months—a frighteningly long time for any athlete. The media suggested it might be fateful.
But Sharapova’s career has always been driven by her determination and by her dedication to hard work. Her story doesn’t begin with the 2004 Wimbledon championship, but years before, in a small Russian town, where as a five-year-old she played on drab neighborhood courts with precocious concentration. It begins when her father, convinced his daughter could be a star, risked everything to get them to Florida, that sacred land of tennis academies. It begins when the two arrived with only seven hundred dollars and knowing only a few words of English. From that, Sharapova scraped together one of the most influential sports careers in history.
Here, for the first time, is the whole story, and in her own words. Sharapova’s is an unforgettable saga of dedication and fortune. She brings us inside her pivotal matches and illuminates the relationships that have shaped her—with coaches, best friends, boyfriends, and Yuri, her coach, manager, father, and most dedicated fan, describing with honesty and affection their oft-scrutinized relationship. She writes frankly about the suspension. As Sharapova returns to the professional circuit, one thing is clear: the ambition to win that drove her from the public courts of Russia to the manicured lawns of Wimbledon has not diminished.
Sharapova’s Unstoppable is a powerful memoir, resonant in its depiction of the will to win—whatever the odds.