Justin Gifford, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Justin Gifford



Justin Gifford is an associate professor of English literature at the University of Nevada, Reno. His teaching and research focus on American and African American literature. He specializes in popular literature, archival research, and critical theory.

His first book, a literary and cultural history of black street fiction, "Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing," was a finalist for both the Edgar Allan Poe award for literary criticism and Phi Beta Kappa's Christian Gauss Award for scholarship.

He also is the author of the critically acclaimed "Street Poison," the first and definitive biography of Iceberg Slim, one of America's bestselling, notorious, and influential writers of the 20th century. Author of the multimillion-copy memoir Pimp, Iceberg Slim is the greatest of "street lit" masters, the cultural icon to such rappers as Ice-T, Jay-Z, and Snoop Dogg, and a presiding spirit of "blaxploitation" culture.

Research interests

  • 19th- and 20th-century American and African American literature
  • Black cultural history
  • Popular literature

Notable exhibitions or performances

  • "Iceberg Slim and the Emergence of Queer Street Literature," MELUS Conference; Augusta, GA, April 2015.
  • "African American Street Literature and the Prison/Fiction Industrial Complex," Urban  History Association Conference; New York City, October 2012.
  • "Black Literary Los Angeles," session organizer of a roundtable discussion with Wanda Coleman, Odie Hawkins, Emory Holmes, and Roland Jefferson, Modern Language Association; Los Angeles, CA, January 2011.
  • "My Name is Black: The Racial Politics of Luck in Black Crime Fiction," Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association; Reno, NV, October 2008.
  • "Pimping Ain't Easy: The Black Crime Novel and the American Working Class," Cultural Studies Now-An International Conference; London, England, July 2007.

Courses taught

Graduate Seminars

  • The Archival Turn in African American Literary Studies
  • The End(s) of American Studies
  • African American Cultural Traditions and the Literary Marketplace
  • American Literature, Race, and Crime in the 19th and 20th Century
  • Cultural and Theoretical Marxism
  • American Prison and Street Literature

Advanced Undergraduate Seminars

  • American Literature to 1865
  • 20th-Century American Novel
  • 19th-Century African American Literature
  • 20th-Century African American Literature
  • Literary and Critical Theory
  • Multi-Ethnic American Literature
  • Gender and Sexuality in Literature
  • American Detective Fiction
  • Women and Literature
  • Literature of the Apocalypse

Introductory Undergraduate Courses

  • Core Humanities: The American Experience
  • Literary Theory and Criticism
  • Introduction to Writing


  • 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): 216-240.
  • "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.
  • "'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.


  • Ph.D., English Language and Literature, University of Virginia, 2006
  • M.A., Humanities, University of Chicago, 1999
  • B.A., English, magna cum laude, University of Washington, 1998