R. R. Knudson, the renowned author who grew up in Alexandria and whose stories about girls and women in sports, died on May 3 at her home in St. Petersburg, Fla. She was 75 and died of cancer.
Knudson’s series of Zan novels were based on her Alexandria childhood, and were heralded for helping to lower the gender barriers on the playing field.
Knudson wrote about 40 books, but is best known, particularly among teen girls, for the four Zan books she wrote. Published after the passage of Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibited federal funding for education programs that discriminate on the basis of sex, including sports, the series called on young women to foresake cheerleader skirts and pompoms.
The books’ central character, Suzanne Hagen, nicknamed Zan, is a fun-loving all-around athlete. The first in the series, Zanballer (1972), was based on Knudsons own experience as a high school girl in Alexandria. She had spent the summer of 1946 honing her basketball skills, but just as the basketball season was about to begin, the school gymnasium floor was torn up because it had warped. The boys team was bused to practice at a local Y.M.C.A. All that was left for the girls was a dance class.
I organized the girls to leave class and play football on the only other available field, Knudson told The New York Times in 1985.
Zanbanger (1977) is about a girl who does get to play basketball, and Zanboomer (1978), is about a girl who runs track. The last book in the series, Zan Hagens Marathon (1984), recounts the fictional characters competition with real-life athletes like Joan Benoit and Grete Waitz in the womens marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 the first womens marathon in the 88-year history of the modern games.
Shes never balked at depicting in females what used to be prejudged beyond their capabilities and even outside their rights,” The New York Times wrote in a review. Knudsons 1974 book, Fox Running is about an Apache girl who runs a four-minute mile at the Olympics.
Rozanne Ruth Knudson was born in Washington on June 1, 1932, one of six children of James and Ruth Ellsworth Knudson. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 1954 and received a masters degree at the University of Georgia in 1955. After teaching English at high schools in Miami and Key West, Fla., she received a Ph.D. from Stanford in 1967. She later taught English at Purdue, Adelphi and York College of the City University of New York.
She began writing in the 1960s, assembling an anthology of sports poetry in an attempt to spark the interest of her students. When she suggested to an editor that she put together another collection, she was told: No, I want you to write me a sports novel. There arent any women writing about women athletes.
Knudson played baseball, tennis and football as a young woman and was a jogger well into her 60s.
She is survived by her domestic partner, Carole Berglie, two sisters, Alice Mergler of Manassas, and Melanie Wall of Falls Church; and two brothers, Homer, also of Falls Church, and Ellsworth, of Dickerson, Md.