RARA-AVIS: Racial minorities in classic crime fiction

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 16 Jul 2003

I've noticed that in noir crime novels of the 40s and 50 by white novelists (Goodis, Chandler, Woolrich, Hammett) that African-American and Puerto Rican characters have only minor roles, especially of a positive nature, even though the downtown honky-tonk or ghetto areas loom large in the stories. I may be simply wrong on this, and I know Goodis gave some important roles to Puerto Ricans (Eddie's first wife in
_Down There_, the gang in _Street of No Return_). I was wondering what the requirements of the publishers had to do with this. They might have had templates regarding race, as they had regarding allowable use of four-letter words, sexual explicitness, and extreme violence. Perhaps the publishers thought their readership was not interested in ethnic minorities other than Europeans. Does anyone know if the paperback or hardback publishers had such templates regarding race? Are any archives available, other than for New American Library?

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