In the long history of black people in America, there have been many who were successful at certain crafts. Most often, many have been robbed of their achievements, unheralded, or die before their time. One such person that fits this description was Donald Goines. He grew up in what was considered, at the time, an affluent family in Detroit and found himself crippled with addiction, shot and killed mysteriously to end his short life.
Donald Goines became a prolific African American writer who wrote sixteen novels under his own name and his pseudonym “Al C. Clark” in his brief literary career. During his three years of service in US Air Force, he became a heroin addict while stationed in Korea and Japan, a monkey on his back that clung to him when he rejoined civilian life in 1955. Eventually, the monkey was demanding a c-note’s (one-hundred dollars) worth of junk a day.
Unable to get straight, it was hard to fly right with such a burden, even for an ex-air man. Like many addicts, Goines turned to crime to support his “jones”. In addition to theft and armed robbery, he also engaged in bootlegging, numbers running and pimping. In and out of jail, he was incarcerated for a total of six and one-half of the first 15 years after leaving the service. He wrote his first two novels during that time.
While wearing prison stripes, he tried his hand at writing Westerns, but he was uninspired by the genre. However, he found his muse when he discovered the writings of the ultra-cool Iceberg Slim, the legendary pimp, and raconteur. Iceberg Slim’s works such as his seminal “Pimp” inspired Goines to write the semi-autobiographical “Whoreson,” a novel about a Mack born to his trade as the son of a street-walker. “Whoreson” was released in 1972 by Slim’s publisher, Holloway House, which specialized in African American works. It was his second published novel, after 1971s “Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie.”
Goines was released from the jail in 1970. At which time, he began writing at a frantic pace for the next four years allotted to him in this vale of tears; publishing 16 paperback originals with Holloway House. Still addicted to junk, Goines was disciplined enough to keep to a strict schedule, writing in the morning before giving over the rest of his day to letting his habits quick-silvery hands control his being.
Writing at a furious pace, he could turn out a novel in as little as a month. His style is unpolished, his syntax rough, and his words literally depended on the language of the streets shot through with black dialect (Ebonics). His novels are about people he knew; pimps, ho’s, thieves, hitters and dope fiends, struggling to survive in a ghetto jungle beset with merciless predators. The books were written for an audience to whom violence was or had been a part of life; not something wholly fictional.
The novels he published under his own name are about the “lumpenproletariat,” the criminal underclass. Under the name “Al C. Clark,” Goines wrote five novels about a revolutionary black cat called Kenyatta. Unlike Goines’ gangstas, Kenyatta, named after the great African freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta, takes an active stance against exploitation and the depredations of inner-city life. He opposes the Establishment and was a sworn enemy of white cops. The head of a black militant organization dedicated to the Herculean task of douching out the ghettos of drugs and prostitution, Kenyatta is killed in a shootout in the last book of the series, “Kenyatta’s Last Hit” (1975).
Between five and ten million of Goines books have been sold, though his work did not receive much critical attention until the hip hop generation, which he influenced, became a cultural phenomenon. Goines’ books have inspired gangsta rappers from Tupac Shakur to Noreaga as a new generation of rap-influenced African Americans adopted the long-gone writer as part of their cultural heritage. Goines’ works reflect the anger and frustration of African Americans as a people. The hip-hop generation was sympathetic and accepted of Goines’ rejection of the values of white society.
While hip-hop as an art form cannot be considered a direct descendant of writers like Goines or Iceberg Slim, they did have a major influence on gangsta rappers. Nas and Royce Da 5′ 9″ both have songs called, “Black Girl Lost,” which is the title of a Goines book.
The ultimate tragedy of Goines life was when he and his wife were shot to death on October 21, 1974, under circumstances that remain a mystery. Some people believe they were killed in a drug deal that went wrong. Their grandson, Donald Goines III, who himself was murdered in 1992, blames part of the destruction of young African American lives that had not abated. Since long before the founding of the Republic, a country whose Constitution deemed African Americans as 3/5ths of a person for the purpose of establishing the apportionment of Congressional representation but did not give them any legal or social rights.
Thirty years after his death, Donald Goines’s novels are as relevant as they were in the early 70s, offering a picture of a lifestyle immersed in violence, sex, and drugs. It’s a life – often sacrificed to the exigencies of the street – that has since become glamorized and more appealing for a new generation of African Americans and white “wiggah” wannabes due to the mainstream commercialization of gangsta rap by urban media moguls more concerned with “Big Buck$” than social justice. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood
-Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie, 1971
-Whoreson: The Story of a Ghetto Pimp, 1972
-Black Gangster, 1972
-Black Girl Lost, 1973
-Street Player, 1973
-White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief, 1973
-Daddy Cool, 1974
-Crime Partners, 1974
-Eldorado Red, 1974
-Never Die Alone, 1974
-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