Faculty Biography

Justin Gifford

Justin Gifford

Assistant Professor


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

Contact Information:

Office: Frandsen 31

Telephone: (775) 682-6373

Email: jdgifford@unr.edu

Recent Publications:

Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing. Forthcoming in fall 2012 from Temple University Press

“‘Something like a Harlem Renaissance West’: Black Popular Fiction, Self-Publishing, and the Origins of Street Literature. Interviews with Roland Jefferson and Odie Hawkins.” Forthcoming from MELUS.

“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): 111-137.

Academic Specializations:

American and African American literature and culture, Crime fiction, Critical theory, Popular culture, and Cultural studies.


In my research, I uncover a hidden genealogy of twentieth-century African American literature centered on the urban crime and detective fiction form. Drawing from a diverse archive of self-published and locally-distributed pulp paperbacks, experimental prison novels, autobiographies, and political essays, as well as interviews I personally conducted with significant pulp publishers, writers, and family members, I argue that the crime fiction of Chester Himes, Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, Nathan Heard, Clarence Cooper, and Roland Jefferson provides a privileged window into the social, spatial, and racial cleavages that emerge at the pivotal moment of America's postwar "urban crisis." A literary and cultural history firmly situated in the field of American studies, Pimping Fictions draws upon recent critical theories of race and gender, urban studies, psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, and especially cultural Marxism to argue that the popular literature of hustlers, junkies, pimps, sex-workers, prison inmates, and ghetto revolutionaries is not mere genre fiction, but, unexpectedly, an aesthetically innovative and politically viable expression of black working-class identity. I break from previous scholars of African American literature and culture, who have dismissed black crime fiction as a "low" literary form, as well as recent cultural and literary critics who have exhaustively documented the relationship between hard-boiled heroes and the white industrial working class. I make the case that the crime fiction industry and detective fiction form have provided African American writers with enabling yet troublesome locations to express the political and artistic concerns of black working-class men contending with a racialized service economy, the modern prison-industrial complex, suburbanization, and the postwar containment of urban minorities.