Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Q&A with John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro

John Florio
John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro are the authors of the new book for older kids and teens, War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight Between America and Hitler. Their other books include One Nation Under Baseball and One Punch from the Promised Land, and their work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. They live in Brooklyn.

Ouisie Shapiro
Q: Why did you decide to write about the boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling?

A: Sports fans know the story of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, but it may be new to middle-schoolers. We thought a book about their rivalry would be an exciting way to illustrate the many issues that surrounded the world on the eve of World War II—racism/Jim Crow in America, Nazism and anti-Semitism in Germany, and Hitler’s aggression throughout Europe. 

Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?

A: We spent a lot of time with the autobiographies of both Louis and Schmeling. We also read several books on the two fighters and on world history, as well as countless articles written during the period covered in the book.

What surprised us most was Schmeling’s relationship with the Nazi government. Even though Schmeling never officially joined the Nazi party, he had a mutually beneficial relationship with Hitler. He did Hitler’s bidding to stop the United States from boycotting the 1936 Olympics—and, in turn, Hitler promoted Schmeling, bringing him into the higher echelons of German society.

Q: What do you see as the legacy of this fight today, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: In many ways, the fight is a microcosm of World War II and it served to destroy Hitler’s myth of Aryan superiority. We hope that young readers see that once a playing field is leveled, no one side is superior to the other.

Q: How do the two of you collaborate on your books?

A: Ouisie does the bulk of the research; John does the bulk of the writing. But it’s still a collaborative process. We discuss how to tell the story, choosing the most important elements, and structuring the chapters. Once we have a draft, we go back and forth writing and rewriting.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We’re planning to do another historical young adult book and have a short-list of ideas—but no final decision yet!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: This was our first young adult book, and since YA books tend to run shorter than adult books, we had to figure out how to condense information without losing the important elements.

Before we began, we asked the editor who acquired the book to define the differences between the two genres. He said, “Length. Other than that, write to a YA audience as you would to an adult one. Don’t write down to a young reader.” We thank him for that advice—we leaned on it throughout the entire process. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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