A Paris Review Staff Pick and an Amazon Editors' Pick. Finalist for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and longlisted for the 2022 Joyce Carol Oates Prize.
"Bold, witty, ominous and vulnerable . . . How to Wrestle a Girl shines in its propensity to magnify small moments, challenge our presumptions and dissect the beauty, danger and wonder of girlhood." --The New York Times Book Review
Hilarious, tough, and tender stories from a farseeing star on the rise
How to Wrestle a Girl
To mark the publication of Venita Blackburn’s amazing new collection How to Wrestle a Girl, we’re thrilled to publish the book’s brilliant title story here with illustrations by Elliott Chambers, art direction by Alex Reeves, and animation by Mehmet Salih YILDIRIM. In the words of The New York Times Book Review, Venita’s book “shines in its propensity to magnify small moments, challenge our presumptions and dissect the beauty, danger and wonder of girlhood.” We think this story does the same. Read “How to Wrestle a Girl” below, and get your copy of the book here!
Option 1: Forfeit. Can’t lose if you don’t play, though it is technically losing. For a teenage boy in America there is little status in defeating a girl or being defeated by one. Claim a faith-based reason for not participating, which everyone interprets as not wanting to risk an erection. Feel righteous and horny. Gradually lose devotion to the sport and eventually your God.
Option 2: Have nothing to prove. Feel secure in your skill and never underestimate hers. She is your equal in weight and height and you are difficult to tell apart from high up in the bleachers. Be awake. Be cautious. Forget your own name because it doesn’t matter in the moment. There are only two positions: top and bottom. Begin in neutral with a smile. Use one of the four basic grips in wrestling, the butterfly, wrist over wrist, elbows close to the ribs. Use your torso strength to maneuver her to the mat. You are now the top.
It was easy because she was thinking about another face, a body full of hope with bruises and neck acne and how nice it is to be close to her. She was thinking about tomorrow, not about your shoes squeaking in a lunge forward. Continue like this until you are named winner or not. Option 3: Have something to prove as well as a preprogrammed disregard for women, especially lesbians. Assume she is a lesbian. Hate her body, her hair, and the color of her uniform. Green is stupid.
With a simple attack you are now the top. Beam. Believe you have won and leave yourself vulnerable. Notice your opponent slip out from under you. Feel embarrassed as if you’ve dropped something valuable like your pants and underwear. She binds you via a Gable aka monkey grip, hand over fist to secure you in an armlock. Everyone is looking at you roll around with what looks like yourself; it is unclear who is the boy and who is the girl and people want to see what you will become, so they can call the winner by name. Remember that girls have lighter bones and wear their weight in muscle and fat. Headbutt the girl with your heavy skull, and hope the ref doesn’t see it, hope everyone else does. Watch her wince. Smile, or try but fail to remember how. Use the S grip, curled fingers only, which requires strength in the knuckles to circle her body while it is hurting. Smell her and yourself, indistinguishable as two lit matches. Lift up as she straightens with hands and feet on the mat like a tent. Slap her arms till they welt, will them to release their grip before the timer runs out and you are named. Notice the size of the areolas through her uniform as you squeeze your forearms around her ribs. Feel the tiny soft ridges. Forget how to get hard. Forget your own name. Be flipped to the bottom position. Land hard on your right elbow.
Find yourself seized by the girl in a ball-and-socket grip, hand over fist, great for choke holds and not great for you. Because of the pain in her head she is not thinking about tomorrow, only this hour and your throat and how soft it is and how it yields so easily under her bones. At the whistle breathe again as the ref ends the match to spare you the act of surrendering and/or unconsciousness. Know your name again.