PW: Was it a main goal in your book The Gloves to show boxing's beauty and subtlety in addition to its more brutal side?
RA: People tend to think that boxing is just two subhumans beating the shit out of each other. When you start off, it takes a while to realize that you aren't going to overcome your opponent by walking right into him and smashing him. Once you start to learn the little, nice-touch things and the movement and the technique, it opens up this whole artistic realm. It took me about a decade to figure that out.
PW: You describe in detail some of the poundings you took in the ring. Did you ever find that you were fuzzy when you tried to write?
RA: It was kind of hard writing when I came home. Even on days when I didn't have super hard sparring, I was exhausted. I'd go to the cafe in my neighborhood and dump a couple gallons of coffee under my eyelids, and I'd get five or six pages of notes. So, yeah, it was a problem, but it was also kind of fun. At least I was getting paid to train and be in the gym, and it beat having a day job.
PW: Do you have any lingering fears about the shots you've taken?
RA: Oh yeah. I was just watching something on CBS that said that one thing that greatly increases the chance of contracting Alzheimer's in later life is blows to the head. How many head traumas have I now had? Hundreds. I try to limit my time in the ring, but a lot of damage has already been done. Who knows how the dice are going to come up?
PW: Do you think ego is essential to being a good boxer?
RA: Definitely. In The Fight, [Norman] Mailer's book about the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle," he showed the technique by which Ali turned insecurity into security and strength. You wouldn't do it if you didn't think you could win, and you've got to wrap yourself up in an absolute state of indestructibility and toughness. You hear about a lot of guys getting into trouble because they're overconfident, but it's maybe more essential to boxing than any other sport, because you have to be in there thinking that, if you do what you're supposed to do, you'll win.
PW: Your book highlights your own experience, but also a lot of other people's stories. Did you anticipate meeting so many interesting characters?
RA: When I first got in, this being my first nonfiction book, I was worried: Am I going to get a story? Are these people going to talk to me? Am I going to have anything to say? The first month, I felt a little desperate because I'm not used to hanging out with these guys from the South Bronx. It's a different world. But what made me want to write about boxers, in part, was that I grew up around a lot of working-class guys. There's this idea that working-class people aren't as bright as college-educated people. And ever since I was a kid, I'd think, "This guy is so smart and witty. Why isn't he a lawyer? Why isn't he in some other place?" It was nice to get these people's stories across and start to understand how intelligence isn't class-specific.
PW: Were there other writers whose work inspired you?
RA: The link between boxing and literature is very old. Boxing in its current form dates from the late 18th century. Pierce Egan, Hemingway, A.J. Liebling, Joyce Carol Oates... there's always been a connection between the demimonde of boxing and the literary world. I think it's the one sport where writers can access a world outside the backgrounds that many writers come from. I did a lot of reading in this tradition while I was working on the book, and it was nice to kind of place myself in the tradition and feel that I was reflecting or developing or looking back on some of these other writers that I really admire.