RARA-AVIS: Re: "prison lit": noir?

From: Channing ( filmtroll@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 05 Apr 2006

Wow, the Philadelphia Inquirer picked up on a "phenomenon" that's only 30 years old. Both Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines were ex-cons who created a literary career for themselves writing about their lives in and out of prison. Both were writing in the early '70's and both are cited as seminal influences in the modern hip-hop music scene and then current Blaxploitation film genres. Their books would most definitely hit all of your requirements for hard-boiled noir.

Then going back further you have Chester Himes, an ex-convict himself who single-handedly created the African-American crime genre in literature.

I have not read any of the books on your list, but as an example of hip-hop noir I submit Renay Jackson's "Oaktown Devil" and
"Shakey's Loose." They are both very much influenced by Chester Himes' darkly comic writings about odd-ball characters in the urban ghetto, this time it's Oakland, California. Although Jackson was never a criminal his street credentials are pretty good. He was a janitor at the Oakland police station for 20 years, and he sold the first editions of his books out of the trunk of his car before they got picked up for republication by Frog Books. His books are worth their value alone for their excellently drawn hip-hop style noirish covers.

"Shakey's Loose", although the sequel is the better of the two in terms of capturing the local color of Oakland as it continues the story of gangsta's vying for control of the lucrative drug trade in inner-city Oakland.

Jackson's faults are that he's pretty weak on plotting and has a fascination with what the characters are wearing and eating. He's also got too much gratuitous sex and not enough gratuitous violence for my taste. But I think his books are worth a look.

As another prison lit hard-boiled writer I also suggest Edward Bunker's "Bad Boy" and "Dog Eat Dog." Bunker was an ex-con who kept trying to go straight and ultimately gained some reknown as a writer. Quentin Tarantino was one of his admirers and Bunker had a minor role in "Reservoir Dogs" which is clearly inspired by Bunker's books. Bunker draws on his prison experiences, cons he knew and the stories they told to give a gritty, realistic picture of criminal psychology and behavior.

"Dog Eat Dog" Bunker's last and best book is an excellent story of an ex-con dealing with his new found "freedom". Through no fault of his own the ex-con protagonist is forced to go on the run and his attempts at escape are harrowing and exciting.


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