TO "GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, OUT OF THE COUNTRY… PLACES YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT JIM CROW": VERY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF LEN ZINBERG'S FIRST NOVEL, WALK HARD—TALK LOUD, 1940, A RADICAL LOOK AT THE STRUGGLES OF A YOUNG AFRICAN AMERICAN BOXER
(LACY, Ed) ZINBERG, Len. Walk Hard—Talk Loud. Indianapolis, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, (1940). Octavo, original brown cloth, original dust jacket. $1800.
First edition of Zinberg's controversial debut novel, a bold look at the blurring of sport and racism in his account of a young Black man who agrees to train as a boxer in hopes of escaping Jim Crow America, with Zinberg also famed for novels issued under his Ed Lacy pseudonym.
Zinberg, a white Jewish-American writer born in 1911, criss-crossed America during the Depression working odd jobs as he began writing his debut novel, Walk Hard—Talk Loud. Zinberg, who later used the pseudonyms Ed Lacy and Steve April, fought in WWII before returning to New York, where his works appeared in magazines such as BLAST, edited by William Carlos Williams, and New Masses. An early story, The Right Thing, issued under Ed Lacy, was early thought to be by a Black author. In the 1940s Zinberg and Ralph Ellison, then friends who "moved in the same literary and political circles," shared a focus on boxing in their works. Both raise questions of whether boxing can, in Ellison's words, be seen as "'symbolic substitutes' for… rituals 'in preservation of caste lines' still operating in Jim Crow America" (Linskey, Ed Lacy). In Walk Hard, Zinberg focuses on the intersections of race and sport in the novel's account of a young African American man who agrees to be trained as a boxer in order to "get the hell out of here, out of the country… places you can forget about jim-crow [sic]." One of the rare works published under Zinberg's name, Walk Hard is also enhanced by his "impressive… knowledge of the sport of boxing"; the boxing sequences "pack a raw, realistic and visceral power" (Linskey). In 1944 Walk Hard was produced as a play, adapted by Black playwright Abram Hill for Harlem's American Negro Theatre Company.
Because Zinberg was a known Marxist at the height of McCarthyism, he was diligent in separating his name and life from his Ed Lacy novels. Few knew they were the same writer when, in 1957, his Ed Lacy novel Room to Swing, which is "considered the first series about a Black private detective… won the Edgar award for Best Novel" (Wald, Writing from the Left, 100-101, 287). Today the Zinberg/Lacy novels are achieving fresh recognition for a wide-ranging expertise across genres, an often "wry wit, weary optimism, and human tolerance… [and] a literate, plausible, and often inventive use of African American and minority characters [that] sets him apart" (Ed Lynskey). First edition, first printing: with "First Edition" on copyright page.
Book fine; two small abrasions to spine, trace of edge-wear to colorful about-fine dust jacket.