Donald Goines

Donald Goines

Detroit, Michigan
Donald Goines (pseudonym: Al C. Clark) (December 15, 1936 – October 21, 1974) was an African American writer of urban fiction.
Donald Goines was born in Detroit to a relatively comfortable family – his parents owned a local dry cleaner, and he did not have problems with the law or drugs. 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). This time Goines wrote his semi-autobiographical novel Whoreson, which appeared in 1972. It 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 wife were shot to death on the night of October 21, 1974. According to some sources Goines’s 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”. 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 a(less)

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Posted on 03/13/2012, in Bio'z, Black Americanz and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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