Back to NSC 2002 Live Coverage: Profiles
NSC 2002 Player Profile: Stefan Fatsis
Congratulations to our new National Champion, Joel Sherman!
You wouldn't be wrong to congratulate Stefan on his new baby,
but you might have to specify which baby--his professional
baby, the paperback release of Word Freak: Hearthbreak, Triumph, Genius,
and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE® Players
(Penguin, 2002)--or the personal baby, Chloe, born to him and Melissa Block,
in early July.
Stefan took a year off from his day job, writing about sports
and the sports business for The Wall Street Journal, to write
Word Freak. He immersed himself in the world of competitive SCRABBLE®,
getting to know the players, the words, and the obsessions as he played
in more than 40 tournaments. What began as a project about those
SCRABBLE® players evolved into a story about we SCRABBLE® players,
with Stefan sharing his progression from a green newcomer to the
ranks of expert-level players. In the process, he illuminated some of
the competitive scene's more colorful players including Joe Edley,
Matt Graham, Marlon Hill, Lester Schonbrun, and Joel Sherman
(GI Joel to those who know about his infamous gastro
intestinal system!). All of these players and nearly everyone
else mentioned in Word Freak can be spotted this week
in the San Diego Concourse at the NSC.
Though it wasn't nearly as exciting as studying word lists all day,
Stefan eventually had to return to work and this last year was jam-packed
with both good and bad. The hardcover version of Word Freak
(Houghton-Mifflin, 2001) made the New York Times bestseller list,
he went on book tours,
got engaged then married, started a family, and
lost his office to the September 11th attack. The Journal's building was
diagonally across from the World Trade Center, and suffered so much
structural damage that he and his colleagues only moved back into the building two weeks ago.
As he traveled around the country promoting the book, Stefan
was amazed and flattered by the support he received from SCRABBLE®
players. He says, "That's the beauty of the game--you've got a friend
in every city. Mike Weepie
won the prize for farthest traveled to listen to me read. He drove
from Cedar Rapids, IA, to Madison, WI,--six hours--and back again.
That was a terrifically fun evening, largely because we played a few
games afterward. (Mike's still
smarting that I beat him.)
"In Boston, the bookstore made anagram banners
and we played demonstration games for the uninitiated. In
Berkeley, CA, Lester Schonbrun was a great sport as I read
from the chapter about him. In London, I was a guest on an hour-long
BBC radio show broadcast around the world. (The host said their
audience was 35 million people.) A gang of us went out to dinner after a
reading in Los Angeles. The club in Washington, D.C., held its regular session during my
reading. Everyone made me feel welcome and accepted and loved. What a
Another highlight was when C-SPAN's Book Notes
turned up unannounced to tape his reading in New York City. That show
still get replayed on the program every so often.
Once the new parents decided to make it a family trip and bring
6-week-old Chloe to the NSC, Stefan had to choose
which division to play in. He says, "I could have played in 1, 2, or 3.
That's because my rating was above 1700 at the beginning of the year,
but now is down to 1634 after two lousy tournaments (Danbury and Boston).
I ruled out Division 1 because I'm not 'booked up.' So I'll play Division 2.
I have been studying whenever I get a free half hour (mostly on the subway).
I've been reviewing the fours and high-probability sevens and eights,
and I was studying the fives this morning."
Word Freak fans will notice two main differences in the
paperback edition: a short postscript and a snazzy new cover.
The letters in Word Freak are "die-cut" SCRABBLE® tiles, which can be
read through holes in the cover. And, when it's flipped open, the page beneath
is full of tiles. Even Stefan agrees that "it's a knockout cover."
Close listeners to National Public Radio may already be familiar with Stefan:
every Friday, he does a segment about sports on the show All Things Considered.
Baseball fans might want to check out Stefan's first book,
Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America's Heartland.
Stefan's media appearances abound. Last week he appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch and
during the NSC, he's scheduled to appear on three San Diego-based television stations: he will appear
Sunday, August 18, at 8:45 am on UPN affiliate KUSI
(with NSA executive director John Williams);
Monday, August 19, at 7:00 am on CBS affiliate KFMB (Channel 8); and
Tuesday, August 20, between 7am and 8am on Fox affiliate XETZ.
To see him in person and get an autographed copy of the book,
he'll be giving a book reading at Warwicks in La Jolla, CA, Tuesday, August 20, at 7:30 pm.
This just in: Stefan has completed a lengthy piece for National Public
Radio's Morning Edition on Alfred Butts and SCRABBLE®. It is slated to run on
Monday, August 19, just after 6:30 am and then again just after 8:30 am EST. He
says the piece is part of a NPR series on the creating of America.
Rumors of Word Freak: The Movie are still floating around. Curtis Hanson,
director ofLA Confidential and Wonder Boys, has the rights to the book.
Halfway through a three month leave from the Journal to care for his baby, Stefan says, it's been "wonderful (if predictably exhausting). Aside from diapering and dancing and rocking, we've been taking walks in the park. A wonderful reprieve from work."
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