cover image Street Poison: The Life and Times of Iceberg Slim

Street Poison: The Life and Times of Iceberg Slim

Justin Gifford. Doubleday, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-53834-3

Gifford follows his essential study of street lit, Pimping Fictions, with a thoroughly engrossing biography of Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck (1918–1992), “black America’s bestselling writer, the literary godfather of hip-hop, and definitive icon of pimp cool.” He follows Beck from his working-class Chicago roots to the streets and prisons that served as his crime schools, and then to his phenomenal sales and influence as the author of the groundbreaking 1967 memoir Pimp: The Story of My Life. Beck, having spent the 1950s alternately incarcerated and working as a pimp, was released from prison in 1962 and found himself “past forty with counterfeit glory in [his] past, and no marketable training, no future,” setting the stage for his new path as a writer. This biography is informed by interviews and archival research (school, prison, and historical society records; contemporaneous press accounts), as well as by Gifford’s judiciously applied skepticism of Beck’s own recollections. In addition to lucid critical assessments of Beck’s published and unpublished works, Gifford offers a flavorful account of African-American cultural and social history. He makes an entertaining, informing, and most persuasive argument that a writer “practically unknown in the American [literary] mainstream... is arguably one of the most influential figures of the past fifty years.” Agent: Matthew Carnicelli, Carnicelli Literary Management. (Aug.)