The history of paperback crime fiction aimed at the urban African-American market, usually centered on pimps and other outlaws rather than detectives and published by the white-owned Holloway House, dates to a 1967 nonfiction title, Pimp: The Story of My Life, by Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck), an ex-convict-gone-straight who went on to publish several volumes of fiction on similar themes and to inspire other African-American writers.
The pioneering work of Chester Himes, who wrote of commercial necessity for a predominately white audience, is considered in the first chapter, which focuses not on the Coffin Ed and Grave Digger detective novels but on the non-series Run Man Run (1959), viewed as a deliberate response to the racist view of the urban black community Gifford infers in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely (1940). Subsequent chapters concern Pimp and its author; the influential works of Iceberg Slim’s most famous successor Donald Goines, with an extended reading of Never Die Alone (1974); subsequent Holloway House authors, including the very prolific Joseph Nazel; the tragic history of the Holloway House magazine Players from sophisticated and black-edited political and cultural periodical à la Playboy to pure porno mag; and finally the rise of “street literature” and the new importance in urban publishing of women writers and entrepreneurs like Vickie Stringer and Nikki Turner. Gifford points out that Holloway House, for all the opportunities it gave African-American writers, was low-paying, exploitative, and ultimately as confining as a ghetto or prison.
This is just the sort of book that deserves Edgar recognition: well-written and argued, and concerning important subject matter relatively little explored in other sources. Early on, the language may seem a bit too academic and the structure too repetitive and dissertation-like—the author is a University of Nevada English professor—but once underway, the book is highly readable and informative.