Interview with Rick Collins: The Providence of Basketball

Updated: Apr 23

We're here with Rick Collins, author of The Providence of Basketball. Do you want to start out with a summary of your book?

It's the story about this white kid from the suburbs who is a basketball player and decides to spend a week in inner-city Providence, RI, playing basketball against the black players. He goes there, and he finally gets to the game and realizes some of the very obvious misconceptions that he has. He then gets caught up in the lives of the people he meets in Providence and in the violence, the heartbreak, the love, and the compassion. He gets swept up in it. And he ends up being a witness to a drive-by shooting. He has to survive the next few days while he's being targeted by the gang that did the drive-by because they don't want to leave witnesses. He has to learn to trust the black people he's met, whom he doesn't necessarily trust. He has to rely on them to survive, and he learns some lessons along the way, but not all lessons are learned.

So this book deals with a lot of heavy topics.

I think so -- a lot of issues with race relations and just people not knowing each other; that's one of the problems we have.

How did you come up with the idea for the book?

I think it was because I had to face my own racism. When I first met my editor and the person who helped me publish my first book, I was a little taken aback because I'd thought she was going to be a white woman. And when we got to talking, I admitted that, and she shared what her misconceptions were, and I shared mine, and we got to know each other because that's how you do it: you admit the things that you don't know. You start there. So once I dealt with that, which I think was a life-changing event for me, I always had this idea about writing this story about that week that I spent. It was something I actually experienced myself in a way. But then I needed to dig into the issue of this main character's preconceptions and racism.

What were some of the challenges in writing it?

I think the biggest challenge was trying to write the main character (this kid named Tim). It was important for me to continue to have him not understand things. It would've been a cliche for him to go, "Well now I understand what it's like to be black." He doesn't. He only begins to at the end of the book. And the bottom line is he can get on a bus and be gone from this environment in two hours. He'd be gone and never have to deal with it. And he does leave at the very end, of course. He goes back to where he lives, and all the friends he made in Providence are stuck. They never get out. He leaves them, and they each have to continue to deal with the terrible situation that they're in. So, I think that was the most compelling part: knowing that he can leave and not be in that environment. How can you ever really understand?

If you could give any advice to new writers, what would you say?

If you don't bleed over something, don't write about it. I'm on my third book right now, and all of the books that I've written already, that I'm writing now, and the ones I want to write, are all things that have torn me apart. Unless you get torn apart, how are you going to make someone get into the story? Other than that, it's just commercial. I certainly want my books to sell, but if you're doing it just for the commercial end of it, people will know. This book was hard, and it made me look at myself in a different way. I will have to share that with people I talk to about the book. And that's not easy for me to accept, but it's the truth. But I had to bleed a little bit in order to admit those things. Write about things that rip your heart apart because that's where good writing comes from.

I think so. Well, thank you for coming!

Thank you! I had a great time!

The Providence of Basketball is about the summer Tim decides to spend a week with his grandparents in the inner city of Providence, Rhode Island. His friends suggest this might not be a good decision, but he goes anyway with the idea he can spend his time playing basketball at the court in the Cranston Street Projects. He is befriended by Marcus, the best basketball player in the projects. But Marcus and his sister are in danger from Pele, the drug dealer on Cranston Street. Tim is thrust into danger when a rival drug dealer, Raja, tries to take Pele's turf. He survives a drive by murder, but it is clear that Raja cannot leave witnesses. In the course of hiding out, Tim comes to realize that his preconceptions about being black in the ghettos of the inner city are completely off-base. He begins to understand that he has his own racist ideas. Can Tim survive being hunted and change the way he thinks about black people?

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