It's July, which means it's the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of W.W. Norton's Old School Books, the imprint that reissues pulp novels written by black male authors between 1950 and the 1970s -- novels set in gritty urban environments with gangsters, drugs and violence. The imprint has won a Special Publishing Award from the 1997 American Book Awards. In this anniversary month, OSB has released its third set of novels, dressed in new, evocative covers: Man Walking on Eggshells, by Herbert Simmons (1962); Daddy Cool (1974) by Donald Goines, author of the Iceberg Slim series; and The School on 103rd Street, by Roland S. Jefferson (1976).
This group of releases brings the number of titles in the series to 11. And in January 1998, OSB will publish its first hardcover title, Yesterday Will Make You Cry by Chester Himes. Originally published in 1952 as Cast the First Stone, the novel of life in prison will regain both its original title and 200 pages which were cut to appease its "jittery, conservative" white publisher.
Despite series editor Marc Gerald's past experience as managing editor for True Detective and writer/producer for America's Most Wanted, marketing the OSB titles "involves a steep learning curve on my part and Norton's," he admits. "Spin, Details, Detour, and Source have done big features on the series, and we're learning to sell books to the people who read those magazines. Books can be sold in all sorts of places: barbershops, street corners, churches, websites, anywhere."
In the traditional arena, according to Brother Simba of Karibu Books in Maryland, for customers who want something new and different, "the Old School Books satisfy that kind of market." The titles are also selling in the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands.
According to Gerald Howard, editor and v-p at Norton, Portrait of A Young Man Drowning by Charles Perry -- one of the July 1996 releases -- has been developed into an independent film, and they are trying to package the series for cable TV. The other titles in that initial July 1996 set were Corner Boy by Herbert Simmons (which won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship in 1957); The Angry Ones by John A. Williams (who recently retired from his position as the Paul Robeson professor of English at Rutgers University); and The Farm by Clarence Cooper Jr.
In January 1997 Old School Books published Dead Piano by Henry Van Dyke, Giveadamn Brown by Robert Deane Pharr, The End of a Primitive by Chester Himes; and Black! by Clarence Cooper, Jr.
Marc Gerald, who has rediscovered almost 40 black pulp fiction authors, wants to take the concept a step further. Feeling that black male journalists and authors -- "many of whom write for Vibe and Source, many in prison, many students" -- need a forum in which to write "fiction and literary nonfiction that's at the crossroads of pulp and prestigious," he is currently talking to several publishing houses -- which he declined to name -- "and hoping one will make that commitment to do an imprint of this type. I just know from all my research and the friends I keep that there's room in the market for it." Any interested parties can reach Gerald via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Old School Books website is at http://www.wwnorton.com/osb.