Free to Be Muhammad Ali Critical Context - Essay

Robert Lipsyte

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Lipsyte, who came to know Ali while working as a sports columnist, is also a writer of acclaimed fiction for young adult readers. Composites of several people associated with Ali appear as characters in Lipsyte’s fiction. The acclaimed young adult novel The Contender (1967), for example, introduces Alfred Brooks, a com-posite of some of Ali’s own characteristics (such as the supposed lack of a “killer instinct”) and the traits of several contenders Ali fought. Brooks leaves active boxing and becomes a police officer who runs a gym, as did Joe Martin in the life of Ali. The fictional Brooks reappears in The Brave (1991) as an experienced police officer who trains Sonny Bear, the young Native American boxer who is the central character.

More recent biographies of Ali by other authors have contributed engrossing details, viewpoints, and perspectives. Several appeared during 1992, when Ali turned fifty. Ferdie Pacheco’s Muhammad Ali: A View from the Corner (1992) is one such book. In it, Pacheco says the Parkinson’s syndrome that afflicted Ali was the result of too many battles in the boxing ring. His portrayal provides a fascinating perspective on Ali and his entourage and contains many photographs. The Story of Muhammad Ali, Heavyweight Champion of the World (1990), by Barry Denenberg, like Lipsyte’s book, was written for a young readership. Free to Be Muhammad Ali compares quite favorably with the other biographies and is superior to them in balance and readability. Thus it could be useful in several subjects of the school curriculum. Because it ends in early 1978, however, before Ali’s boxing career ended, it should not be the only biography of Ali recommended to a young reader.