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Donald Goines (1937-74) - pseudonym: Al C. Clark


American writer, a career criminal and addict who wrote his first two novels in prison. Goines's books have inspired a number of lyricists from Tupac to Noreaga. They have sold over 5 million copies – according to rumors the figure has reached 10 million. His series about Kenyatta (under the name Al C. Clark) describes a black revolutionary, who campaigns against exploitation and evils of inner city life. Goines published all his works in the period of four years.

"Hey, brother, wait a minute now. I don't want you to leave with no kind of attitude now, 'cause ain't nobody did nothin' to you," Curtis stated sharply, then added, "'cause if you think you been cheated, run it down to me. I don't run no kind of crooked game, not in my momma's backyard, no way." (in Cry Revenge!, 1974)

Donald Goines was born in Detroit to a relatively comfortable family – his parents, Joseph and Myrtle Goines, owned a local dry cleaner, and he did not have problems with the law or drugs. The children occasionally helped at the shop. Goines attended Catholic elementary school and was expected to go into his family's laundry business. Instead Goines enlisted in the US Air Force, and to get in he had to lie his age. From 1952 to 1955 he served in the army. During this period he got hooked on heroin. When he returned to Detroit from Japan, he was a heroin addict.

The next 15 years from 1955 Goines spent pimping, robbing, stealing, bootlegging, and running numbers, or doing time. His seven prison sentences totaled 6,5 years. While in jail in the 1960s he first attempted to write Westerns without much success – he loved cowboy movies. A few years later, serving a different sentence at a different prison, he was introduced to the work of Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck). Before his release, Goines finished two books, Dopefiend (1971) and the semi-autobiographical Whoreson (1972). The latter novel was a story about the son of a prostitute who becomes a Detroit ghetto pimp. Also Beck's first book, Pimp: The Story of My Life (1967), was autobiographical. Goines was released in 1970, after which he wrote 16 novels with Holloway House, Iceberg Slim's publisher. Hoping to get rid of surroundings - he was back on smack – he moved with his family to the Los Angeles ghetto of Watts.

All of Goines's books were paperback originals. They sold well but did not receive much critical attention. After two years, he decided to return to Detroit. Goines's death was as harsh as his novels: he and his common-law wife Shirley Sailor were shot to death on the night of October 21, 1974, in their Detroit home. Goines had no time to fire his .38 pistol which he kept in the drawer of his desk. According to some sources his death had something to do with a failed drugs deal. The identity of the killers remained unknown, but there were reports of "two white men"; the killers had supposedly visited the house sometime in the past. Posthumously appeared Inner City Hoodlum (1975), which Goines had finished before his death. The story, set in Los Angeles, was about smack, money, and murder.

The first film version of Goines's books, Crime Partners (2001), was directed by J. Jesses Smith. Never Die Alone (1974), about the life of a drung dealer, was filmed by Ernest R. Dickerson, starring DMX. The violent gangsta movie was labelled as "junk masquerading as art."

During his career as a writer, Goines worked to a strict timetable, writing in the morning, devoting the rest of the day to heroin. His pace was furious, sometimes he produced a book in a month. The stories were usually set in the black inner city, in Los Angeles, New York or Detroit, which then was becoming known as 'motor city'. In Black Gangster (1972) the title character builds a "liberation" movement to cover his planned criminal activities. After this work Goines started to view the social and political turmoil of the ghetto as a battlefield between races.

Under the pseudonym Al C. Clark, Goines created a serial hero, Kenyatta, who was named after the "father of Kenya", Jomo Kenyatta. The four-book series, beginning with Crime Partners (1974), was published by Holloway House. Kenyatta is the leader of a militant organization which aims at cleaning American ghettos of drugs and prostitution. All white policemen, who patrol the black neighborhoods, also are his enemies. Cry Revenge! (1974) tells of Curtis Carson, who is tall, black, and used to giving orders. He becomes the nightmare of the Chicanos, who have crushed his brother. Death List (1974) brings together Kenyatta, the powerful ganglord, Edward Benson, an intelligent black detective, and Ryan, his chisel-faced white partner, in a war against a secret list of drug pushers. In the fourth book, Kenyatta's Last Hit (1975), the hero is killed in a shootout.

"Donald Goines wrote fiction the way other people package meat. There is little point in picking any of his titles as outstanding, since they are all formulaic. Equally, however, they are outstanding in that they are street-real and avoid the romanticism of many of the films and books about black life in America." (Andrew Calcutt & Richard Shepard in Cult Fiction, 1998)

Goines's style is unpolished, his language is a combination of Black English and rough American Standard English. His characters are likewise unpolished – pimps, prostitutes, thieves, hit men, dope addicts. They are people whose survival struggle in ghettos the author knew best. It has been easy for his readers, who have seen drug addicts and violence on the streets, to relate and identify with this stories. Also his style has been praised, "is so clear, its like you are apart of the story", "you can almost see the characters as you read the book," have Goines's fans said. Although Goines's world is violent, there is love as in his novel Daddy Cool (1974). In the story a black hit man, Larry Jackson, has become known as "Daddy Cool" – he shows no emotions in his work. "Taking his time, Daddy Cool removed a cigarette pack and lit up a Pall Mall. He wasn't in a hurry. He knew the the frightened man in front of him was as good as dead." The center of Larry's life is Janet, his teenage daughter, not his wife, whom he had married because of the way she was built. Finally Larry reveals his feelings after a pimp named Ronald has lured astray his beloved daughter.

In the eighties and nineties, a new generation of African-Americans adopted Goines as part of their cultural heritage. Goines himself had conveyed through his Kenyatta series the ideas of the Black Panther Party, but also anticipated some of the rhetoric of the Black Muslims, especially Louis Farrakhan. In France the author gained a cult status and he was compared to Chester Himes. His works can be seen as a reflection of the anger and frustration of black people, and rejection of the values of the white society. But they also continue the tradition of ethnic crime fiction, in which the writer celebrates his or her own cultural heritage, practices linguistic innovations, and identifies with other minorities. Robert Beck or Iceberg Slim (1918-1992), whose works Goines found in the prison, gained fame with his vivid stories about prostitutes, pimps, gangsters, interracial sex, homosexuals, and transvestites. Before becoming a writer, perhaps also "America's Most Popular Black Author", as his publisher claimed, Beck had been a successful pimp.

Himes's Harlem series depicted tricksters, jive artists, hoodoo gurus, stoolies, junk men and hustlers. He started to write in the 1940's as a protege of Richard Wright, whose Native Son (1940) can be read as a crime novel, like Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. When Himes's famous heroes, Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, are police officers, working for the community, but always within their own code of justice, Goines did not compromise: his characters are criminals. But they have nothing in common with such white artificial elite villains, such as The Saint, or Jim Thompson's murdering sociopaths, or even with Ernest Tidyman's Shaft, "the black Mike Hammer." On the other hand, Walter Mosley has combined in the character of Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, conventions of mystery novels with insights of the social psychology of American ethnicity.

For further reading: Donald Writers No More by Eddie Stone (1974); St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. Jay P. Pederson (1996); The Ethnic Detective: Chester Himes, Harry Kemelman, Tony Hillerman by Peter Freese (1992); Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers by Lee Server (2002); 100 Most Popular African American Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies by Bernard A. Drew (2006). Jomo Kenyatta (assumed name of Kamau Ngengi, c. 1894-1978). The first president of Kenya from 1964 until his death. Kenyatta was a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group. He was devoted to recovery of Kikuyu lands from white settlers. In 1953 he was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for his management of the guerrilla organization Mau Mau, though some doubt has been cast on his complicity. Kenyatta's slogans were 'Uhuru na moja' (Freedom and unity) and 'Harambee' (Let's get going).

Selected works:

  • Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie, 1971
  • Whoreson: The Story of a Ghetto Pimp, 1972
  • Black Gangster, 1972 - Soundtrack 1999, original tracks from artists such as Jay-Z; WC; DMX, Mic Geronimo, The Life (formerly Thug Life); Ja- Rule
  • Black Girl Lost, 1973
  • Street Player, 1973
  • White Man's Justice, Black Man's Grief, 1973
  • Daddy Cool, 1974
  • Crime Partners, 1974 (as Al C. Clark, Kenyatta series) - Film in 2003, prod. Picture Perfect, Raven Knite Productions, dir. J. Jesses Smith, starring Tyrin Turner, John Bryant, Steve Porcelli, Laz Alonso, Jeanette Branch, Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, Dorian Missick, Kinya Shakur Rector, Chino XL
  • Eldorado Red, 1974
  • Never Die Alone, 1974 - Film in 2004, prod. Bloodline Films, ContentFilm, Fearon Entertainment, dir. Ernest R. Dickerson, screenplay by James Gibson, starring DMX, Michael Ealy, Drew Sidora, Clifton Powell, Reagan Gomez-Preston, Antwon Tanner, David Arquette
  • Swamp Man, 1974
  • Cry Revenge!, 1974 (as Al C. Clark, Kenyatta series)
  • Death List, 1974 (as Al C. Clark, Kenyatta series)
  • Kenyatta's Escape, 1974 (as Al C. Clark, Kenyatta series)
  • Kenyatta's Last Hit, 1975 (as Al C. Clark, Kenyatta series)
  • Inner City Hoodlum, 1975

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