The Cactus League at The Hermitage Artist Retreat

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Emily Nemens, author of The Cactus League. Photo by James Emmerman.

One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate Emily Nemens’ acclaimed debut novel, The Cactus League. Yes, Nemens’ novel tells the multi-layered story of the fictional Los Angeles Lions’ 2011 Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona, but it does so much more than that. Through the interweaving stories of seemingly disparate characters–a career hitting coach down on his luck, an All-Star with a dark secret, a team owner with a crumbling personal life–Nemens paints a searing portrait of post Great Recession America and the people that inhabit the surreal desert landscape of the Southwest. In The Cactus League, everybody is reaching, grasping desperately for their piece of the American Dream, only to find that what they’re striving for may be a thing of the past.

This Friday, Nemens will be discussing her novel at The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in a one-hour program titled “Baseball Fiction: The Cactus League in Grapefruit Country”. Nemens, a Hermitage fellow and former member of the Hermitage’s National Curatorial Council, is currently the sports/senior editor of the Stranger’s Guide and previously was the editor of The Paris Review. “When I began working on the novel in 2011, there was an early, early version of it that was a collection of stories where I really wanted to tell this kaleidoscopic version of Spring Training where it wasn’t just about the star, the most important player on the team, but rather all these different stories that were happening concurrently at Salt River Fields,” says Nemens. “That was the first impulse for writing it. I had this collection of separate stories and characters that I absolutely loved, but to read them together felt like they were walking by each other in a mall and not acknowledging each other. It felt like a missed opportunity that these stories weren’t connected to each other.”

In The Cactus League, each chapter features a different protagonist, a different story that may not seem connected to the rest of the novel until it finally is. Modeled after the nine-inning framework of a baseball game, Nemens’ story structure allows her to explore the grander scope of the setting while still pushing a continuous narrative. “I was really interested in pushing the structure of a baseball game as far as it could go,” says Nemens. “Which is to say, when you watch a baseball game, there might be an All-Star on that team, but he’s not necessarily the star of every inning. I had a sense of the momentum that I wanted to build and knew that all of these elements of the story would be coming together in the last chapter, the equivalent of the 9th inning.”

November 3, 2023 6:00pm to 7:00pm, Hermitage Beach, 6660 Manasota Key Rd., Englewood, FL.


Pictured: Emily Nemens, author of The Cactus League. Photo by James Emmerman.

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