Uncovering the life and work of Robert Beck (aka Iceberg Slim)

In this blog entry, Justin Gifford, author of Pimping Fictions, explains how he came to tell the story of African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing

In my journey to uncover the life and works of Robert Beck (aka Iceberg Slim) I have made many surprising discoveries along the way.  I began my search by traveling to black neighborhoods in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and many other American cities in search of Beck’s books. GiffordScouring used bookstores, thrift shops, and bootleg video stores, I discovered hundreds of black-authored paperback novels inspired by the works of Iceberg Slim.  I began collecting, reading, and categorizing them all in order to get a picture of the entire literary scene he helped create.

The next big breakthrough came in 2004, when I met Robert Beck’s second wife, Diane Millman.  She was selling all of Beck’s old pimp suits, alligator shoes, and silk shirts on ebay to raise money for charity.  I purchased all of these items, and then I flew to Los Angeles to interview her, as well as Beck’s publisher at Holloway House books, Bentley Morriss.  Millman and Morriss both supplied me with letters and other documents owned by Beck, and they have been ongoing resources for information for many years.

Pimping Fictions_smIn 2008, Millman introduced me to Ice-T’s longtime manager, Jorge Hinojosa, who at the time was creating a documentary on Beck, titled Iceberg Slim:  Portrait of a Pimp.  Hinojosa brought me onto the project as a research consultant, and I was given the rare opportunity to appear in the film as a literary expert on Beck.  This is where my book really took off.  I suddenly had the chance to view rare archival materials that no other scholar had ever seen—FBI records, photographs, and even an unpublished Iceberg Slim novel, titled Night Train to Sugar Hill.

I also was fortunate to gain access the insider perspectives of the former editors, authors, family, friends, and fans that knew Beck and his works best.  I have had the privilege of talking to a range of important figures about Iceberg Slim and his legacy, including comedian Chris Rock, Los Angeles poet laureate Wanda Coleman, and pioneering author of underground black literature, Odie Hawkins.  Pimping Fictions is the result of countless people’s generous contributions over a period of ten years.  

 

 

 

 

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