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Tamryn Spruill is an author and freelance journalist covering women’s basketball, with issues of gender, race and sexuality central to her reporting. She has followed the WNBA since its 1996 inception, and she is writing a book about its exciting history through the lens of the passionate, persevering and powerful (80% Black, many LGBTQ+-identifying) women who make the league up (ABRAMS 2022). She is represented by JL Stermer at New Leaf Literary & Media.
Spruill’s bylines include Harper’s BAZAAR, The New York Times, SLAM, ZORA, Teen Vogue, The Athletic and Swish Appeal, where she also has served as editor-in-chief since 2018 when hired as the first woman to hold that position.
She holds Bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Journalism (University of South Carolina) and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Goddard College).
Tamryn answers your most pressing questions
Did you really compose the music for your podcast? What is your musical background?
This is true! In fact, the first episode of The Hard Screen dropped almost a month later than anticipated because of the music. I am a classically trained violinist. After a few years of piano lessons, and hating them, I begged my parents to let me switch to violin. They did, it stuck and, during my junior year in high school, I performed at Carnegie Hall in NYC with my youth orchestra. I am also self-taught on guitar and enjoy making beats. I don’t get to practice and play nearly as much as I’d like, but I do it whenever my crazy schedule allows.
What is the most meaningful game you’ve ever watched or attended?
South Carolina versus UConn on Feb. 10, 2020. Before a raucous, sold-out Colonial Life Arena crowd, Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks beat the visiting Huskies for the first time in program history. To witness South Carolina rise to No. 1 in the 2019-20 season, and never give it up, was special. The first-ever win over UConn was the signature win of all signature wins in a season in which the Gamecocks commanded 11 victories over Top 25 teams. Staley — a Hall of Famer — is a rock star in Columbia, S.C., which also happens to be my hometown and University of South Carolina my undergraduate alma mater.
Staley put together an electric team of freshman stars that drove fans into a frenzy. On that Big Monday in February, the crowd’s energy was electrifying. The smiles on their faces and joy in their eyes: priceless.
What is your favorite throwback jersey?
More old school than throwback, I’m a fan of the Charlotte Sting jerseys. That was my hometown team in the early 2000s–head coached by Anne Donovan, with Dawn Staley calling the shots and Tammy Sutton-Brown commanding the frontcourt. I was in the arena for many of those games so the Sting, in spite of now being defunct, will always hold a special place in my heart.
Who has had the biggest impact on the women’s game as it is today and why?
Where does one even begin?! This question is so loaded that I could write a book on the topic, which I am doing! Until said tome makes it onto bookstore shelves, I’ll devote future episodes of The Hard Screen toward attempting to answer this important yet difficult-to-answer question.
Have you written any books about basketball?
I am writing a book right now about the WNBA and its amazing, though turbulent and uncertain history. I began developing the concept in late 2019 and working with an agent at New Leaf Literary & Media in February 2020. I don’t know yet which publisher will bid for it, or the timeline for the book’s release, but we’ll definitely keep you posted here at The Hard Screen!
Who or what made you fall in love with hoops?
From my earliest memories of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and the Boston Celtics facing off against Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Los Angeles Lakers—uniform shorts polyester and nearly defying decency in terms of length—it was my dad and me and hoops.
My father, sitting on the floor of the downstairs den—forearm resting on a knee bent upward—casually informed me in the summer of 1996 that there was going to be a professional women’s basketball league. Something like the NBA, but for the ladies. We had watched basketball together since I was ten years old, including NCAA college women’s hoops with Lisa Leslie (USC), Rebecca Lobo (Connecticut) and Dawn Staley (Virginia) always on our must-watch list of games. As the USA Basketball Women’s National Team prepared for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and proceeded to win gold on home soil, the NBA flooded the airwaves with “We Got Next” commercials, advertising the forthcoming inaugural WNBA season. I was hooked on the league a year before its debut. And when I watched the New York Liberty hand the Los Angeles Sparks an upset loss on June 21, 1997 — the first game in WNBA history, airing live on NBC from the famed Great Western Forum in L.A. — I never looked back.
How did you get your start writing?
I fell in love with books at the age of two or three, when I first started reading. The feel of them in my hands provided an unexpected and unmatched exhilaration, as did blank notebooks, journals and diaries. I asked for a diary one Christmas, age five or six, the kind with the lock and key. I started writing then and never stopped. It became and has remained my way of understanding myself and the world around me.
As I grew into a voracious reader, my fascination with language intensified. In college, I majored in Spanish and Journalism and after graduation I started my first career as an editor in the financial news industry. After being laid off during the recession of 2007-08, I decided to change careers. I went to graduate school to pursue my Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. After graduating, I taught college English, literature and creative writing — all the while with women’s hoops still a big part of my life.
I began applying my writing skills to basketball after witnessing ESPN’s shamefully insufficient coverage of the Phoenix Mercury’s championship-winning performance over the Chicago Sky in 2014. The coverage was brazen in its inequity, and free of postgame interviews and champagne baths in the locker room. More galling, though, was the normalization and seemingly blind acceptance of these practices. Fueled by a desire to shed light on these issues, I merged my interests.