An Afternoon With Lucas Mann

By Emily Heiden

Lucas Mann wears a humble smile as he passes out a story he wants us to read.  It’s not one that he has written – this particular piece is about a journalist who endangered his life during the Vietnam War in the name of a new kind of reporting. We discuss the ethics of such a piece and what it means to immerse oneself in a specific place in order to write about it.

Mann too has immersed himself in this way, except that his place was a small town in Iowa, where he watched a lot of men play (and lose) a lot of baseball, and sometimes he dressed up in a giant suit as the team’s mascot, ‘Louie the Lumberking’.   

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere,  Lucas Mann (Vintage 2014)

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, Lucas Mann (Vintage 2014)

He talked with us about this type of reporting, or nonfiction – about “showing up somewhere and simply not getting turned away” – and what kinds of projects can take shape when writers are allowed to stay and really come to know a people and a place. Mann’s book, Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere (Vintage 2014), is a lovely example of what can emerge from hunkering down and observing a subject until a writer finds the story; that team, those men, that place.

Class A is an explication of what Mann observed in Clinton, Iowa: men imported from around the world to play baseball in one of the lowest-level leagues that exists; the people who populate the stands; the workings of the town itself.  It shows us an enigmatic factory on the edge of town that emanates a terrible smell, the train-cars filled with tons upon tons of corn being shipped out of the Midwest for processing and livestock feed, photos of players’ girlfriends – who the men call a “blessing” – and other instances of surprising humanity that tug at the heart.     

I learned a lot from Class A, from Mann’s decision to begin in medias res, in which he “enter[s] his torso” (code for pulling on his mascot outfit to become Louie the Lumberking) to the effective portraits he paints of both people and place.  His writing – and his teaching style – captured even this decidedly non-baseball-loving reader’s attention.

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Emily Heiden writes creative nonfiction at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition, creative writing, and literature classes.  She will graduate with her Master of Fine Arts degree this spring.  She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Connecticut, which is her home state.