SI: Why is sports so attractive for writers?
Talese: Because you can see it. If you are a war correspondent or covering Washington, you are told what the news is or given some spin on what happened. But not so in the world of sports. You are on the ringside if you are at a fight. Or you are in the press box at a baseball game, and after the game, you can go in the locker room and talk to the person.
SI: You joined The New York Times in 1953 and worked in the sports department, and later you wrote magazine profiles of Joe DiMaggio (below) and Floyd Patterson. You've said the losing locker room is more compelling than the winning one. Why?
Talese: It's not that I'm only interested in failure, but people who can rise from the floor. That's why Floyd Patterson was an ideal subject. He was so honest in moments of triumph and moments of defeat. Patterson got knocked down more than anybody in the history of boxing, but he got up more than anybody, and that is a real achievement. What I write about is perseverance more than anything else.
SI: After the 1999 women's World Cup, you traveled to Beijing to track down Liu Ying, who missed a penalty kick in the final. Why is she the starting point for A Writer's Life?
Talese: China is the big story. She is a woman who in a male-dominated communist regime was a focus of great attention. It's not that she is Joe DiMaggio or Madonna or Madeleine Albright. But she's Everyman.
SI: Do you find Barry Bonds fascinating?
Talese: Fascinating. Barry Bonds stands as a gigantic figure who has on all sides people that are snipers. He's a man besieged. He's a prideful, hated man who does not want to knuckle under to all the naysayers that abound. I have a respect for him because this man is presented as such a villainous creature. This is a story where maybe you need Arthur Miller or Gabriel García Màrquez, a great playwright or novelist. Because this man is an epic figure.
• For more from Gay Talese, go to SI.com/scorecard.