I’ve been up since mid-morning working on this research introduction, part of a major class project. The assignment is to select an author, “the deader the better,” but not one like Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Milton. As the professor discussed the project, my mind scanned through all the African-American literary possibilities. It was suggested that we select an author from one of our other literary courses, but I don’t really want to research Zadie Smith, Caryl Phillips, or any of the other British literature folks. Not to say that I’m not interested in them, but I want to do somebody Black and American. So it came down to J. California Cooper (I’m slowly becoming a major fan…three books and 1 short story in) or Donald Goines.
Since the current focus of African-American literature is on the ghetto/urban/street fiction genre (is it a genre yet?), I’m interested in possibly researching some of the true originators–i.e. not Sister Souljah and Teri Woods. Few critics and scholars have taken the time to acknowledge or examine the works of Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck). How do they fit into our literary canon? Do they? I’ve only read a few works by Donald Goines, which included Whoreson, Black Girl Lost (obviously, huh?), and some of White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief. I respect any auther who can churn out 16 books in 5 years–with a heroin addiction! If you don’t know much about Goines, here’s a little information about him:
Goines was born in Detroit on 15 December 1937 to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Goines, Jr., owners of a dry-cleaning plant in that city. He attended a Catholic elementary school, where he earned good grades and was thought cooperative by his teachers. Although his father planned for Goines to take over the family cleaning business when he grew up, Goines himself wanted to be a professional baseball player. In his middle teens, however, Goines falsified his age and entered the U.S. Air Force, where he served in Japan during the Korean War. He returned to Detroit in 1955 addicted to heroin at the age of seventeen. For the next fifteen years, Goines tried a variety of illegal professions: pimp, card sharp, auto thief, armed robber, bootlegger, and all-around hustler. By the time he wrote his first novel, Goines had been arrested at least fifteen times and jailed seven times; he had spent a total of six and a half years in prison. He remained addicted to heroin from 1955 until his violent death in 1974 at the age of 36, failing to take the drug only while in jail. Goines wrote several Western novels and autobiographical short stories before he submitted anything to a publisher. He showed these writings to friends, who were encouraging but not enthusiastic. His first published novel, written in jail, was accepted with enthusiasm by the first publisher to whom he submitted it.
In my creative writing course I have to review a recently (2006-2007) published book of short stories or poems. Does anybody have any suggestions? Right now it’s between Edward P. Jones’ All Aunt Hagar’s Children and J. California Cooper’s Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns: Stories. Again, any other suggestions are welcome. I’d like to review an African-American author, but if somebody can recommend anybody else that’s any good…well…I’d appreciate it. No Zane please.
Back to work–and happy reading ya’ll!