Pimps, sex-workers, drug dealers and political revolutions - Justin Gifford, professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, confidently tackles such subjects in his recently released novel "Street Poison."
"Street Poison" is a biography of Robert Beck, known as Iceberg Slim, one of America's most infamous pimps of the 1940s and ‘50s.
"Robert Beck has been a central influence on ‘blaxploitation' film, gangsta rap and street literature," Gifford said. "I wanted to bring Beck out of the shadows and show how he shaped contemporary American culture with his writing."
Gifford conveys how Beck used vivid, blatant details to colorfully manifest his ruthless and unconventional life as a pimp in Beck's bestselling memoir "Pimp," as well as writing other popular novels such as "Trick Baby" and "Mama Black Widow."
"Black crime fiction has been incredibly popular in inner-city communities, prisons and on military bases for decades," Gifford said. "My goal is to give this important genre its due as a distinct and significant American art form."
Gifford focuses on African American literature, specifically black crime fiction, also referred to as Blaxploitation. He contends that the crime fiction industry and detective fiction form have provided African American writers with the means to express political and artistic concerns of black working-class men. Concerns such as contending with a racialized service economy, the modern prison-industrial complex, suburbanization and the postwar containment of urban minorities.
Prior to writing "Street Poison," Gifford did extensive research, including the dissection of FBI files, prison records and interviews with Beck, his wife and daughters. Gifford said he was able to uncover some interesting facts about the former pimp and the people Beck was involved with.
"At the Wisconsin Historical Society, I discovered the prison records of Mattie 'No Thumbs Helen' Maupins," Gifford said. "She was Beck's first common-law wife, and she probably got her nickname from assaulting a man with the butcher knife she always carried on her."
Gifford will host a book signing from 4-5 p.m., Friday, Aug. 28, in the Wells Fargo Auditorium in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center on campus. The Nevada Wolf Shop will be on hand to sell copies of "Street Poison."