This page provides readers with background on Iceberg Slim and the business of black street fiction. The articles feature interviews Gifford conducted with editors and novelists who worked for Holloway House in the 1960s and 1970s as well as contemporaries of Iceberg Slim. Each of the writers–Roland Jefferson, Emory Holmes, Odie Hawkins, and the late Wanda Coleman–describes the exploitative and racist working conditions at the white-owned Holloway House as well as the struggles to overcome them. Included here as well are interviews with Gifford about his research on black crime novels and African American popular culture.
Who is Behind Pop Culture’s Enduring Fascination with Pimps? Meet Iceberg Slim.
Playboy: August 26, 2015
“Kendrick Lamar’s last album is called To Pimp a Butterfly. Jay-Z has a song called “Big Pimpin’,” Future has “Long Live the Pimp,” and 50 Cent has “P.I.M.P.” Kramer was a pimp once on Seinfeld. The radio series This American Life did a pimp episode. We’ve had movies ranging from American Pimp to Frankenpimp.
Everyone knows how to do a pimp walk and what a pimp hat looks like. There’s a pimpname generator. (Mine is Dollar Slick.) There are more references to pimps in American pop culture than you can shake a pimp stick at.
How did pimps become cool? Iceberg Slim.”
“The Mark Twain of Hip-Hop: How Iceberg Slim’s Pimp Changed Pop Culture”
Salon.com: August 8, 2015
“Scottish writer Irvine Welsh has written that Slim “massively influenced popular culture through music and film. In terms of that influence he’s probably the most dominant writer since Shakespeare.”
Justin Gifford’s “Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim,” has just been released. “Mr. Gifford’s taut biography is important and overdue,” Dwight Garner wrote in the New York Times, calling the biographer “a dogged researcher who arrives at a somewhat unexpected conclusion: The stories in ‘Pimp’ are mostly true.”
We spoke to Gifford, a professor at the University of Nevada at Reno, about the writer, the legacy and the life.”
“The Ex-Pimp Who Remade Black Culture”
The Chronicle of Higher Education: July 24, 2015
My search for the story of Robert (Iceberg Slim) Beck — the pimp turned African-American writer of bestselling paperbacks — began long before I knew his name. I grew up in a white working-class area of Seattle back in the days before Microsoft and Starbucks changed everything. My father was an exterminator. Starting at the age of 5, I went with him to the job. We’d squeeze in crawl spaces to annihilate colonies of carpenter ants and replace dry-rotted beams. My dad was also a Vietnam vet, and he suffered from severe PTSD. The smell of the rich, moist dirt under the houses often gave him flashbacks. He threw hammers, broke lights. He screamed into the darkness he himself had made. After work on those days, I went out on long, solitary runs, listening to N.W.A. and Nirvana until the batteries of my Walkman gave out. Grunge and gangsta rap provided the soundtrack for survival during my teenage years. The music’s lyricism and rage helped me handle my violent and traumatic world.
“Something Like a Harlem Renaissance West”: Black Popular Fiction, Self-Publishing, and the Origins of Street Literature
Interviews with Dr. Roland Jefferson and Odie Hawkins
MELUS 38.4 (2013): 216-240.
Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, the popularity of self-published street literature (also known as urban literature, ghetto fiction, and hip-hop literature) has exploded among African American readers. Starting with the publication of titles such as Teri Woods’s True to the Game (1998), Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever (1999), Vickie M. Stringer’s Let That Be the Reason (2001), and Nikki Turner’s A Hustler’s Wife (2003), street literature has emerged as a driving force in the African American publishing industry. Dozens of independent imprints, each publishing several books per year, sprang up virtually overnight, and now thousands of street literature novels compete for the attention of an ever-growing black readership. Some of the more influential independent publishers of this new genre include Urban Books, Teri Woods Publishing, and Stringer’s Triple Crown Publications, though new publishing houses arrive on the scene each year. Triple Crown Publications is probably the most successful of these new publishing houses, having sold more than a million books between its founding in 2001 and 2006. As a further indication of street literature’s growing power in the marketplace, mainstream trade publishers (including Ballantine Books, Simon and Schuster, and St. Martin’s Press) have begun offering six-figure, multiple-book deals to some of the biggest names in the business, including K’wan Foye, Shannon Holmes, and Turner.
“Harvard in Hell”: Holloway House Publishing Company, Players Magazine, and the Invention of Black Mass-Market Erotica
Interviews with Wanda Coleman and Emory “Butch” Holmes II
MELUS 35.4 (2010): 111-137.
In the late 1960s, Holloway House Publishing Company, a niche publisher of adult magazines and erotic paperbacks, emerged as an unexpected center of black literary production. Founded in 1959 by two Hollywood publicists, Ralph Weinstock and Bentley Morriss, Holloway House in its early years published an eclectic mix of high- and low-brow materials, including skin magazines Adam and Knight, biographies about Jayne Mansfield and Ernest Hemingway, and the literature of Casanova and the Marquis de Sade. However, following the Watts uprising of 1965, Morriss and Weinstock changed the direction of the Los Angeles-based company by publishing mass-market paperbacks targeted specifically toward black working-class consumers. The two white publishers recognized the uprisings in Watts and in other black neighborhoods across the country as a crisis of representation, and they capitalized on this crisis by creating a culture industry that catered to a large-scale black readership. This was a major development in the world of mass-market literature. Of course, the mass production of inexpensive and entertaining reading material for the American public has a long history, going back to the dime novels of the nineteenth century. But the dime novel and its early twentieth-century successor, the pulp magazine, were literary commodities marketed to whites and ethnic immigrants who worked in America’s industrial centers. The “black-experience” novels created by Holloway House represent an important watershed in the history of American popular literature, as these were the first black-authored books to be sold in black communities and purchased by black consumers on a national scale.