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Street Poison

Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Publisher: Doubleday
On Sale: 08/04/2015
Price: $26.95
ISBN: 978-0-385-53834-3
open close ABOUT THE BOOK
The first and definitive biography of one of America's bestselling, notorious, and influential writers of the twentieth century: Iceberg Slim, né Robert Beck, author of the multimillion-copy memoir Pimp and such equally popular novels as Trick Baby and Mama Black Widow. From a career as a, yes, ruthless pimp in the '40s and '50s, Iceberg Slim refashioned himself as the first and still the greatest of "street lit" masters, whose vivid books have made him an icon to such rappers as Ice-T, Jay-Z, and Snoop Dogg and a presiding spirit of "blaxploitation" culture. You can't understand contemporary black (and even American) culture without reckoning with Iceberg Slim and his many acolytes and imitators. 

Literature professor Justin Gifford has been researching the life and work of Robert Beck for a decade, culminating in Street Poison, a colorful and compassionate biography of one of the most complicated figures in twentieth-century literature. Drawing on a wealth of archival material—including FBI files, prison records, and interviews with Beck, his wife, and his daughters—Gifford explores the sexual trauma and racial violence Beck endured that led to his reinvention as Iceberg Slim, one of America's most infamous pimps of the 1940s and '50s. From pimping to penning his profoundly influential confessional autobiography, Pimp, to his involvement in radical politics, Gifford's biography illuminates the life and works of one of American literature's most unique renegades.

"The first biography of Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim, (1918-1992), builds a compelling case that the pimp-turned-popular author provided the foundation for gangsta rap, Blaxploitation movies, and so much of the underground culture that became mainstream. Gifford transcends the opacity of academic writing in this lively account... 'This is not a story without tragedy....But it is a story of redemption and breathtaking creativity, too,' writes Gifford, who not only tells the story well, but shows why it's so significant." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] thoroughly engrossing biography. . . . In addition to lucid critical assessment’s of Beck’s published and unpublished works, Gifford offers a flavorful account of African-American cultural and  social history.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.'" —Publishers Weekly

"Gifford has written a remarkably researched, fascinating life story of popular writer Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck (1918–92). The author's material is not high literature, and his life can be difficult to read, but Gifford makes a strong case for the enormous popular appeal and the continuing widespread influence of Iceberg Slim." —Library Journal
Dr. Justin Gifford is an Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Nevada, Reno. His teaching and research focus on American and African American literature. His book, the first literary and cultural history of black street fiction, Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing, was a finalist for both the Edgar Allan Poe award for literary criticism and Phi Beta Kappa's Christian Gauss Award for scholarship.