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Pimping Fictions

African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing

By Justin Gifford

Publication Year: 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.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Every intellectual endeavor is the product of many contributors; this project is no different. I first owe a debt of gratitude to Ross Posnock and Kenneth Warren, early mentors who transformed my understanding of race, literature, and American culture. Many teachers and scholars at the University of Virginia shaped my work and helped me clarify my thinking, ...

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pp. 1-13

Late in Ralph Ellison’s 1952 classic of African American literature, Invisible Man, there is a scene that illustrates the contentious relationship between hip urban styles and black cultural politics that emerged in conversations about racial uplift in the twentieth century. ...

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1. “He Jerked His Pistol Free and Fired It at the Pavement”: Chester Himes and the Transformation of American Crime Literature

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pp. 14-39

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois predicted in his seminal The Souls of Black Folk that, “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”1 In doing so, he was anticipating a social and spatial crisis that came to define urban race relations in the United States. ...

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2. Pimping Fictions: Iceberg Slim and the Invention of Pimp Literature

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pp. 40-67

In the final pages of Pimp: The Story of My Life (1967), the narrator Iceberg Slim details his escape from the confines of a “steel casket,” a solitary confinement cell in the basement of the Cook County House of Corrections where he has been incarcerated for ten months. Having confessed the graphic details of his twenty-five-year career as a Chicago pimp, ...

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3. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Donald Goines, Holloway House Publishing Company, and the Radicalization of Black Crime Literature

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pp. 68-96

Toward the conclusion of Donald Goines’s first novel, a fictionalized pimp autobiography titled Whoreson: The Story of a Ghetto Pimp, there is a moment that reveals the literary influence of Robert Beck’s Pimp: The Story of My Life.1 Having mastered the street arts of “Trickology” from an early age and having risen through the ranks to become one of Detroit’s most ruthless pimps, ...

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4. Black in a White Paradise: Utopias and Imagined Solutions in Black Crime Literature

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pp. 97-126

In 1976, Roland Jefferson published The School on 103rd Street, a novel that extended the black crime fiction genre established by Chester Himes, Robert Beck, and Donald Goines in important ways. As we have seen in the previous three chapters, Himes, Beck, and Goines each illustrated in their novels implicit connections between the carceral space of the prison and the confined space of the black neighborhood. ...

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5. “For He Who Is”: Players Magazine and the Reimagining of the American Pimp

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pp. 127-151

In one of the early issues of Holloway House Publishing Company’s Players magazine—the first commercially successful men’s magazine targeted specifically toward African Americans—a reader provides an insightful analysis of the significance of the publication’s title: “Players is not a ‘demeaning’ name for the magazine for it is not really saying that all Black men are pimps and hustlers. ...

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6. The Women of Street Literature: Contemporary Black Crime Fiction and the Rise of the Self-Publishing Marketplace

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pp. 152-182

In Vickie Stringer’s third novel, Dirty Red (2006), eighteen-year-old Raven “Red” Gomez uses her charm and sexual magnetism to con various men into giving her gifts of clothes, cars, and cash. Reversing the usual gender dynamics of pimp literature invented by Iceberg Slim, Red uses cunning and deceit to exploit male rivals in an attempt to escape the confines of the Detroit ghetto. ...


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pp. 183-198


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pp. 199-205

E-ISBN-13: 9781439908129
E-ISBN-10: 1439908125
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439908112
Print-ISBN-10: 1439908117

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 842388682
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pimping Fictions

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Film noir ǂz United States ǂx History and criticism.
  • Urban fiction, American -- History and criticism.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Crime in literature.
  • Pulp literature, American -- Publishing -- History.
  • Holloway House Publishing Co. -- History.
  • Himes, Chester B., 1909-1984 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Goines, Donald, 1937-1974 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Iceberg Slim, 1918-1992. Pimp.
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