Episode 96: John Branch

John Branch is a sports reporter at the New York Times, and the author of “Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports.” The book was published on June 1 by W. W. Norton.

“Sidecountry” is a collection of stories Branch has written for the New York Times about sports and athletic activities that take place outside of the mainstream sports world. Included in the book is “Snow Fall,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2013.

There are other stories, like the one about a bowler who rolled his first perfect game and died just minutes later. Branch also includes his piece on a Rubik’s Cube competition (this story was anthologized in Best American Sports Writing 2019), and his series on the Lady Jaguars, a girls basketball team that never won a game. 

“I just love the idea of trying to illuminate a story that otherwise wouldn’t get illuminated,” Branch says. 

In 2010, Branch profiled the greatest horseshoe pitcher of all time, Alan Francis. Host Matt Tullis also profiled Francis in 2007 for the Columbus Dispatch, and later wrote about Francis’s main rival, Brian Simmons in 2012 for SB Nation. 

Branch has been at the New York Times since 2005. He won the Pulitzer in 2013, and was a finalist in 2012 for his series of stories on a professional hockey player who overdosed on painkillers. 

Sidecountry is Branch’s third book. “The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West” was published in 2018.

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