Faculty Biography

Justin Gifford

Justin Gifford

Associate Professor


BA (U Washington); MA (U Chicago); MA, PhD (U Virginia)

Contact Information:

Office: Frandsen 31

Telephone: (775) 682-6373

Email: jdgifford@unr.edu

Website: justingifford.net

Recent Publications:

Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim. New York: Doubleday, 2015.

Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2013. A book in the American Literatures Initiative.

"The Ex-Pimp Who Remade Black Culture." The Chronicle of Higher Education. 24 July, 2015.

"'Something like a Harlem Renaissance West': Black Popular Fiction, Self-Publishing, and the Origins of Street Literature. Interviews with Roland Jefferson and Odie Hawkins." MELUS 38.4 (2013).

"Harvard in Hell: Holloway House Publishing Company, Players Magazine, and the Invention of Black Mass-Market Erotica. Interviews with Wanda Coleman and Emory Holmes." MELUS 35.4 (2010).

"'There Was Nothing to Stop the Colored People from Walking Across the Street': Urban Renewal and the Reinvention of American Detective Literature in Chester Himes's Run Man Run." Clues: A Journal of Detection 28.1 (2010): 38-50.

Academic Specializations:

American and African American literature and culture, crime fiction, critical theory, popular culture, and cultural studies.


My research and teaching focuses on redrawing the boundaries of African American literature by arguing for the importance of what I call the "shadow canon" of black fiction. My first book, Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing, exemplifies this interest by reconstructing the lost history of street fiction, America¹s most popular genre of black literature. During the Civil Rights Movement, black novelists, artists, and essayists ushered in an underground renaissance of black street fiction as a form of populist protest against white racism and urban segregation. A recovery project firmly grounded in literary and cultural studies, Pimping Fictions investigates the ambiguous representations of pimps, sex workers, and revolutionaries in American ghettos and prisons, and it connects these depictions to the constrained position of the black pulp writer in the white-controlled literary marketplace.

Working in the disciplines of American and African American studies, I am dedicated to a theoretically and historically informed public intellectualism. Over the past decade, I have compiled a massive archive of research materials not found in any library‹over a thousand vintage paperback novels and magazines; interviews I conducted with publishers, editors, and writers of black literature; FBI files and prison records; unpublished novels and personal writings‹in order to create meaningful connections between academia and the public sphere. This archival approach to cultural studies has resulted in my new book, Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim. A biography as well as a social and cultural history of black America from the Great Migration to the present, Street Poison reveals how pimp-turned-writer Robert Beck (a.k.a. Iceberg Slim) became a bestselling novelist who shaped blaxploitation film, gangster rap, and street literature.