Street Players: Black Pulp Fiction and the Making of a Literary Underground

Street Players: Black Pulp Fiction and the Making of a Literary Underground by NishikawaAuthor: Kinohi Nishikawa, assistant professor of English and African American studies

Publisher: University of Chicago Press, November 2018

The uncontested center of the black pulp fiction universe for more than four decades was Los Angeles publisher Holloway House. From the late 1960s until it closed in 2008, Holloway House specialized in cheap paperbacks with page- turning narratives featuring black protagonists in crime stories, conspiracy thrillers, prison novels and Westerns.

Kinohi Nishikawa contends that black pulp fiction was built on white readers’ fears of the feminization of society — and the appeal of black masculinity as a way to counter it. In essence, it was the original blaxploitation: mass-marketing race to suit the reactionary fantasies of a white audience. But while chauvinism and misogyny remained troubling yet constitutive aspects of this literature, after 1972 Holloway House moved away from publishing sleaze for a white audience to publishing solely for black readers.

When it closed, Holloway House was synonymous with genre fiction written by black authors for black readers — a field of cultural production that Nishikawa terms “the black literary underground.” But as Street Players demonstrates, this cultural authenticity had to be promoted and in some cases made up — and there is a story of exploitation at the heart of black pulp fiction’s origins that cannot be ignored.

Text and book cover courtesy of the publisher