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Street Players

Black Pulp Fiction and the Making of a Literary Underground

Kinohi Nishikawa

Street Players

Kinohi Nishikawa

288 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018
Paper $27.50 ISBN: 9780226586915 Published January 2019
Cloth $82.50 ISBN: 9780226586885 Published January 2019
E-book $10.00 to $27.50 About E-books ISBN: 9780226587073 Published January 2019
The uncontested center of the black pulp fiction universe for more than four decades was the Los Angeles publisher Holloway House. From the late 1960s until it closed in 2008, Holloway House specialized in cheap paperbacks with page-turning narratives featuring black protagonists in crime stories, conspiracy thrillers, prison novels, and Westerns. From Iceberg Slim’s Pimp to Donald Goines’s Never Die Alone, the thread that tied all of these books together—and made them distinct from the majority of American pulp—was an unfailing veneration of black masculinity. Zeroing in on Holloway House, Street Players explores how this world of black pulp fiction was produced, received, and recreated over time and across different communities of readers.

Kinohi Nishikawa contends that black pulp fiction was built on white readers’ fears of the feminization of society—and the appeal of black masculinity as a way to counter it. In essence, it was the original form of blaxploitation: a strategy of mass-marketing race to suit the reactionary fantasies of a white audience. But while chauvinism and misogyny remained troubling yet constitutive aspects of this literature, from 1973 onward, Holloway House moved away from publishing sleaze for a white audience to publishing solely for black readers. The standard account of this literary phenomenon is based almost entirely on where this literature ended up: in the hands of black, male, working-class readers. When it closed, Holloway House was synonymous with genre fiction written by black authors for black readers—a field of cultural production that Nishikawa terms the black literary underground. But as Street Players demonstrates, this cultural authenticity had to be created, promoted, and in some cases made up, and there is a story of exploitation at the heart of black pulp fiction’s origins that cannot be ignored.
Introduction: From Sleaze to Street
Part One Origins
1 Up from Domesticity
2 Street Legends
3 Black Sleaze
Part Two Transitions
4 Missing the Revolution
5 Return of the Mack
Part Three Trajectories
6 Difference and Repetition
7 Reading the Street
8 The Difference Within
Epilogue: And Back Again

Review Quotes
Herman Beavers, University of Pennsylvania | author of “Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson”
“Nishikawa not only pinpoints a key player in the rise of black pulp fiction, he successfully sheds light on an important consideration: that the cultural milieu of post–World War II America was fraught with masculine anxiety that existed alongside a unique brand of racial animus. By indexing the breadth, scope, and depths of this world, Nishikawa delineates the marketing and creative energies Holloway House harnessed to create a literary counterpublic, a highly race-specific and culturally attuned literary practice whose near-total disregard for the kinds of truth claims generally associated with realist fiction created a circumstance that privileged political incorrectness and disjunctive behavior. A very deft interrogation.”
Shane Vogel, Indiana University, Bloomington | author of "Stolen Time" and "The Scene of Harlem Cabaret"
Street Players is among the rarest of the rare: a work of literary history that makes an important scholarly intervention while at the same time telling a story that will be widely interesting far beyond the halls of an English department. Nishikawa’s groundbreaking original research newly narrates a significant period in twentieth-century African American literature. At once a deep history of a single publishing house and a wide-ranging examination of class, gender, and black readership in the postwar era, Street Players contributes to the ongoing project of historicizing seemingly self-evident concepts such as authenticity and appropriation. A standout, a definitive and authoritative history of a minor genre that takes black pulp from the margins of more established fields to their center.”
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