Eight-Wheeled Freedom: The Derby Nerd’s Short History of Flat Track Roller Derby set for release Spring ’16

One of my favourite pics that has been featured on this site; this one is by Kevin Konnyu.

Since the book is historical, I thought I’d take a look at some of the historic shots that have appeared on the site; this one by Kevin Konnyu captures the intensity of the great early ToRD rivalry between the Gore-Gore Rollergirls and Chicks Ahoy!.

I still miss the Hangar and shots like this one (by Derek Lang) remind me why.

I still miss ToRD’s Hangar, and shots like this one by Derek Lang remind me why.

Some may have noticed that I’ve been posting just a little bit less this year as I have in the past—still hitting all the main high points in the season, but fewer of the traveling recaps and extra stuff I used to do. While this may be true, I can assure you that I haven’t been spending any less time thinking and writing about roller derby, I’ve just been focusing those energies toward a different project: a full length non-fiction book about the sport titled Eight-Wheeled Freedom: The Derby Nerd’s Short History of Flat Track Roller Derby that is nearing completion and will be released in Spring 2016 through Wolsak and Wynn.

There are, of course other reasons as well. I’ve been writing a column on WFTDA Canadian roller derby for Jammer Line and I’ve felt less pressure as there have arisen other great resources for derby news out of the ashes of DNN (among others); namely, Derby Central and even Derby Notes, which—even if I don’t always agree with the opinions expressed—is capable of producing very informative articles on the game. And of course, I’ve been on the road as part of the broadcast crew for this year’s WFTDA playoffs.

While the book has a Canadian perspective, the development of the larger game is certainly a focus as well. (Photo by Joe Mac)

While the book has a Canadian perspective, the development of the larger game is certainly a focus as well. (Photo by Joe Mac)

So yes, while my focus has shifted, I’ve still been immersing myself in the game: I’ve been following it as closely as ever, I’ve been researching its place in contemporary culture—how and why it has evolved the way it has. Eight-Wheeled Freedom is part sociological study, part memoir and part historical recounting of the 21st century revival of the sport of roller derby as a flat track game primarily played by women; there is a particular focus on the development of the game since it came to Canada in 2006.

Sustained global growth of the game has separated flat track roller derby from every version that came before it. This is a Greg Russell photo of the first game played at the first ever Roller Derby World Cup (Canada vs. France).

Sustained global growth of the game has separated flat track roller derby from every version that came before it. This is a Greg Russell photo of the first game played at the first ever Roller Derby World Cup (Canada vs. France).

While told from my point of view, it is not really a memoir in any traditional sense, but the structure of the text mirrors my growing understanding of the game and community right alongside flat track roller derby’s own growth. Also, while the text will provide a historical overview of the revival, it is not just a history book, and the focus is on why the sport has become so established in light of past failures of roller derby to inspire a grassroots movement. Another important focus of the text is the game’s evolution from sports entertainment spectacle to a complex, competitive endeavor.

An intense shot of intense action by Neil Gunner. Another focus in the book is on roller derby's evolution from spectacle to sport.

An intense shot of intense action by Neil Gunner. One focus of the book is on roller derby’s evolution from spectacle to sport.

The layout of the book is not chronological, but instead moves thematically in its exploration of the game and the surrounding community, tackling historical moments through an explanation of the cultural significance of the events. For example, a chapter on the influential 2006 A&E television show Rollergirls is framed around a discussion of roller derby’s role in third wave feminism. Another chapter looking at the history of Toronto Roller Derby’s relationship with Toronto Pride and the Pride-affiliated roller derby event that features an international all star game also examines the role that the sport has had in the LGBTQ community and, in turn, the influence this community has had on the development of the game.

With the WFTDA celebrating its 10th anniversary and the Canadian game about to celebrate a decade-long existence as well, it seemed like the perfect time to tell the story of flat track roller derby.

Some of you may recognize that Wolsak and Wynn also published my first book, David Foster Wallace Ruined my Suicide, and did an excellent job on it, so the book and the story are in good hands. That book’s designer, the excellent Marijke Friesen, returns as well. Work on the text is nearing completion with work on layout and other formatting concerns beginning as well, and keep an eye out for a book-specific website launching in the new year.

For now, stay tuned for updates on the final stages in the development of Eight-Wheeled Freedom.

Thanks readers and roller derby fans for your continued support!

Photo by Todd Burgess

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