Re: RARA-AVIS: African-American HB, early example: Hughes Allison's "Corollary" (1948)

Date: 31 Mar 2004


Re your message below:

> Randomly, I picked up the July 1948 ELLERY QUEEN'S
> night, and read Hughes Allison's first contribution
> there, a borderline hb
> procedural called "Corollary," which Dannay in his
> extensive headnote calls
> "the first attempt to project in words a Negro
> detective who is a character
> rather than a caricature" (apparently not aware of
> Chester Himes's work, perhaps).

Himes's cop stories about Coffin Ed and Grave-Digger didn't start until nearly a decade after Allison's
"Corollary" was published, so Allison was, in fact, almost, but not quite, the pioneer Queen said he was.

There was a novel in the early '30's entitled THE CONJURE MAN DIES by Rudolph Fisher, a black MD who was part of the literary Harlem Rennaisance in the '20's and '30's. The book features a black NYPD detective and a black physician working together to solve a murder. I haven't read it, so I can't say how hard-boiled it is, and with the cop partnered with an amateur, I have to infer that it doesn't quite pass muster as a procedural, but, reportedly, the characters are NOT caricatures.

In 1936, Dr. Fisher adapted the novel into a stage play, which was recently revived Off-Broadway. Dr. Fisher died at the age of 37, so there were no sequels to CONJURE MAN.

Even earlier mystery novels by black writers featuring black characters include HAGAR'S DAUGHTER by Pauline Hopkins, serialized in 1901-02 in a magazine called COLORED AMERICAN, but apparently never published in book form, and THE BLACK SLEUTH by John edward Bruce, about the West African operative of the International Detective Agency, who's on the trail of jewel thieves, serialized in McGIRT'S in 1907-09, but apparently never completed.
> I haven't had a chance to check my copy of Walter
> Albert's impressive new CD
> International Bibliography
> of Secondary Sources, to see how much citation of
> Allison there's been in
> the critical literature...or, for that matter, I
> haven't checked to see how
> much else, if any, Hughes published as CF.

"Corollary" was reprinted recently in Paula Wood's excellent anthology of African-American crime fiction, SPOOKS, SPIES, AND PRIVATE EYES. As I recall, she said that it was Hughes's only mystery short story. Joe Hill never detected again.

Other sources you might find useful are Frankie Y. Bailey's OUT OF THE WOODPILE - BLACK CHARACTERS IN DETECTIVE FICTION, Stephen F. Soitos's THE BLUES DETECTIVE - A STUDY OF AFRICAN AMERICAN DETECTIVE FICTION, and "Roots and Riffs on the Genre" an article by Gary Philips in the current issue of REFLECTIONS IN A PRIVATE EYE, the PWA newsletter.


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