David SnowdonWriting the Prizefight: Pierce Egan’s Boxiana World

Peter Lang, 2013

by Bruce Berglund on September 4, 2015

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When ESPN anchor Stuart Scott passed away from cancer this past January, he was widely hailed for his innovative style, which mixed heavy does of African American slang and pop culture references. His signature phrases are now commonly used terms in the American lexicon: "As cool as the other side of the pillow" and, of course, "Boo-Yah!" After the announcer's death, Barack Obama remarked that Scott "helped usher in a new way to talk about our favorite teams and the day's best plays."

No disrespect to America's Sports Fan-in-Chief, but already a century before Stuart Scott was dropping quotes from Shakespeare and Tupac Shakur in his game summaries, Pierce Egan was mixing the Bard and street slang into his sports writing. An Irish-born printshop worker, Egan moved from manning the presses to take up the pen, writing sketches about life in early-nineteenth-century London. In particular, Egan wrote about the world of boxing, an illegal activity that brought together upper- and lower-class enthusiasts. Egan wrote prolifically about the matches (surreptitiously staged at out-of-the-way rural spots), the fighters, the patrons and fans. As David Snowdon shows in his book Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan's Boxiana World (Peter Lang, 2013), Egan's accounts – published in multiple volumes titled Boxiana – painted a vivid picture of the early boxing community, known as "the Fancy." Egan also established a distinctive style for writing about sport, one that mixed classical analogies, high literary references, and the vernacular of London's lower classes. The blend inspired later English writers of the 19th century, and its echoes are still heard in the rapid-fire, pop culture-saturated style of today's ESPN announcers.

David's book was awarded the 2014 Lord Aberdare Literary Prize by the British Society of Sports History. You can hear New Books in Sports interviews with previous Lord Aberdare Prize winners Tony Collins, Simon Martin, and Christopher Young and Kay Schiller.

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