Temple University Press; American Literatures Initiative edition
January 25, 2013
“Lush sex and stark violence colored Black and served up raw by a great Negro writer,” promised the cover of Run Man Run, Chester Himes’ pioneering novel in the black crime fiction tradition. In Pimping Fictions, Justin Gifford provides a hard-boiled investigation of hundreds of pulpy paperbacks written by Himes, Donald Goines, and Iceberg Slim (aka Robert Beck), among many others. Gifford draws from an impressive array of archival materials to provide a first-of-its-kind literary and cultural history of this distinctive genre. He evaluates the artistic and symbolic representations of pimps, sex-workers, drug dealers, and political revolutionaries in African American crime literature – characters looking to escape the racial containment of prisons and the ghetto.
Gifford also explores the struggles of these black writers in the literary marketplace, from the era of white-owned publishing houses like Holloway House – that fed books and magazines like Players to eager black readers – to the contemporary crop of African American women writers reclaiming the genre as their own.
“It’s time for the black literati to recognize that the growth and popularity of black crime fiction is deeply linked to the increased presence of prison culture in contemporary African-American life. And it is time to recognize that the genre functions not just as popular entertainment, but as a political and artistic response to the treacherous conditions of America’s newest racial caste system: also known as the criminal justice system.”
The Los Angeles Review of Books
“Gifford’s groundbreaking study of the ‘art and business of black crime literature’ is ingenious in its embrace of elements of street literature from historical and literary perspectives along with the culture of the writers who produce it, the commercial enterprises that publish it, and the ‘white-controlled spaces’ they occupy and must negotiate… In exploring how these writers, little noticed by academia or mainstream media, negotiate the connection between white-controlled spaces in urban centers, prisons, and publishing, Gifford makes a persuasive case for their importance.”
Publishers Weekly, December 2012
“Gifford aims to inject greater awareness of black crime fiction into the history of African American cultural production, and his analyses of Chester Himes, Robert Beck, Donald Goines, and Players magazine fulfill that ambition. His book clarifies this popular yet understudied topic… Summing Up: Recommended.”
Choice, August 2013
“In tracing the development of the “shadow” canon of African-American literature, Gifford challenges teleological and triumphalist accounts of how a literature develops and highlights the biases that construct what becomes a recognizable part of a canon of literature. And, in a more sustained manner than is possible for the writers of “Publishing Blackness,” Gifford offers an example of what the field of African-American literature stands to gain from an archival turn that can challenge monolithic definitions of race-as-resistance. What comes after African-American literature? Gifford … highlights the richness of material and authors yet to be discovered and reconsidered, urging us to question our assumptions about just what constitutes the field.”
American Literary History
“Drawing on an expansive archive of pulp paperbacks, prison novels, autobiographies and interviews, this timely study positions black crime fiction within a rich literary and cultural history of black pulp publishing over the past 50 years…. Gifford offers a compelling argument for the significance of black crime fiction as a literary and political response to white-sponsored methods of containment fostered by urban renewal policies, federal housing authorities and mass incarceration, whilst at the same time highlighting the deeply contested position of black pulp writers within the literary marketplace.”
Journal of Popular Culture
“Gifford is particularly interested in characters such as pimps, sex workers, drug dealers, hustlers, and criminals as representations of African American resistance to American establishment as well as the harsh living reality of street corners, prisons, and the urban environment. Gifford is equally interested in the role of the publishing industry … One of the book’s strengths exists in touching upon the formation of African-American identities in the late twentieth century. Although Gifford’s main focus is in pulp fiction, he also argues that publishing was an effective way to establish African-American culture and identity within the US … Pimping Fictions is easy to read. While the book can be adopted as an introductory text for understanding a particular African-American writing genre, it can also serve as an extensive case study of a genre contextualized within a specific American and African-American time period and political context.”
Journal of American Culture