Yesterday, Dan Jenkins, the great sportswriter and novelist, died. He was one of my favorite writers — and America’s, too. In addition to reams of sports journalism, especially about golf, he wrote many novels, including Semi-Tough, Life Its Ownself, and Dead Solid Perfect. He also wrote e-mails, of the most lovable kind.
In the summer of 2013, I was seeking to interview him. Could not get an e-mail address. Must have found some street address. Sent him a letter and eventually got a reply, via e-mail. The reply began, “Yo, Jay.” He had me at “Yo, Jay,” for sure. He continued,
I just returned from six weeks on the road that included the British Open, PGA, and a vacation in between, and found your month-old letter, the only important document in the stack.
I would be flattered to have my ownself fondled by National Review, one of the few publications I can tolerate these days.
How would you like to do it? I ain’t going anywhere the rest of the year. Don’t hear too good on the phone, but enjoy back and forth email, and would be pleased with a personal visit. I would try not to stuff you with too much Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex.
He lived in Fort Worth, where he was born and raised. Toward the end of his e-mail, he gave me further contact info, then said, “Did Doubleday sic you on me? Have you read the manuscript?” He ended, “Write if we’re still speaking.”
Someday, I will use that line, somewhere, somehow: “Write if we’re still speaking.”
No, Doubleday hadn’t sicced me on him. In fact, I did not know, at that point, that he was about to have another book published. I just wanted to go see him and interview him and write about him — because I adored him. I had a little hook, or “hooklet,” as I went on to tell him: He was about to collect a Red Smith award.
After I e-mailed him, he wrote back with,
Jesus, I didn’t know I’d be dealing with an intellectual, but bring yourself on. Book is a “journalism memoir,” publisher insisted on calling it “His Ownself.” My working title was always “Typing Through the Laughter.” Out sometime around the first of the year, or a little later.
Look forward to your basic presence.
We talked (via e-mail) about this and that, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In one note, he said — I think you will like the phrasing (again) — “I’m stomping on the galleys right now for the grand final time. Can’t predict when bound galleys will be available, but you should read ‘His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir’ before you come down here to slap me around.”
It never worked out. I never went down to slap him around or otherwise be with him. But his writing, in all forms, gave me great pleasure for many years, and I am thinking of him today, for obvious reasons. A jewel of American life.