Goines, Donald 1937(?)–1974
Donald Goines 1937(?)–1974
The novels of Donald Goines, described by Entertainment Weekly reviewer Suzanne Ruta as “nasty, brutish, and short,” are slices of life in the inner-city underworld. They describe, in graphic detail, the short careers of black crime kingpins, hit men, drug pushers and other criminals. Set mostly in Detroit, his hometown, Goines’s novels teem with scenes of violence and mayhem and the language of the characters is laced with obscenities. The plots of most of Goines’s novels center around the workings of a criminal enterprise and proceed to a grim and tragic conclusion. Goines, a career criminal and heroin addict who was arrested fifteen times and served seven prison terms, drew deeply upon his own life experiences when writing his novels and they have been eagerly devoured by generations of African American readers.
Goines was born in Detroit between 1935 and 1937. His childhood was relatively stable and his parents, who owned a small dry-cleaning store, sent him to a Catholic elementary school. Goines dropped out of school as a teenager and joined the Air Force, using false identification to enlist. While stationed in Japan during the Korean War, he became addicted to heroin. According to Eddie Stone, who wrote Goines’s biography Donald Writes No More, Goines saw action on the front lines in Korea as an ambulance driver.
After returning home from the Korean War, Goines supported his worsening drug habit by committing crimes, including bootlegging and pimping for a ring of prostitutes. Goines was eventually arrested and convicted for his crimes. In 1965, he was assigned to Jackson State Prison in Michigan. While an inmate at Jackson, Goines began writing short stories with Western themes. Another inmate introduced him to the writings of Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck in 1969 and, in those writings, Goines found inspiration. Working at a typewriter in his cell, Goines rapidly produced his first novel, Whoreson: The Story of a Ghetto Pimp. Within weeks, it was accepted for publication by Holloway House.
Whoreson was actually published after Goines’s second novel, Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie. Dopefiend, which likely drew its creative energy from Goines’s own drug addiction, focuses on the destruction that heroin wreaks upon a middle-class African American couple. Literary critic Greg Goode called the settings
Born c. 1937 in Detroit, Michigan; died October 21, 1974, in Highland Park, Michigan; son of Joseph (a dry cleaner) and Myrtle Goines, married Shirley Sailor; two children. Education: Attended Catholic schools in Detroit.
Career: Novelist; served in the United States Air Force, 1952-55; engaged in criminal activity, later described in detail in his writings, 1950s and 1960s; served prison sentences totaling 6 1/2 years; novel Whoreson: The Story of a Ghetto Pimp, written in Jackson State Prison, Ml, accepted for publication by Holloway House, Los Angeles, 1969; published 16 novels after release from prison in 1970; published five novels as Al C. Clark (“Kenyatta” series); consistent sales of books through 1990s; Daddy Cool republished by W. W. Norton, 1996.
and characters in Dopefiend “repulsively memorable,” pointing to the novel’s detailed depictions of the horrors of a shooting gallery presided over by a sadistic dealer named Porky. According to his biographer Eddie Stone, Goines described heroin as “the drug of the damned” and tried to warn his younger sister of its dangers by forcing her to watch him inject the drug.
Following the success of Whoreson and Dopefiend, Goines continued to write novels that featured criminals and their violent pursuits. His 1972 novel, Black Gangster, tells the story of a hustler who organizes a criminal gang under the guise of a black revolutionary organization. Another novel, Eldorado Red, revolves around the robbery of a cash-collection house in a “numbers” operation, an illegal lottery that flourished in many African American neighborhoods. Many of Goines’ novels depict cycles of revenge killings that accomplish nothing and impulsive characters who often meet their death at the hands of brutal white police officers. Although he was not a person given to overt moralizing, Goines may have intended such depictions as a protest against the mindless violence of the ghetto. In the Village Voice, Michael Covino described Goines as “a chronicler of the black ghetto during the precipitous decline of the 1970s.”
In 1974, Goines began writing a new series of novels that sought to take a broader view of ghetto violence and address its root causes. Using the name of a close friend, Al C. Clark, as a pseudonym, Goines penned what became known as the Kenyatta series. Each novel features Kenyatta, a powerful leader influenced by Muslim and Marxist thought, who organizes an army to rid African American neighborhoods of white police officers on the one hand and violent criminals on the other. The Kenyatta series includes the novels Crime Partners, Cry Revenge!, Death List, Kenyatta’s Escape, and Kenyatta’s Last Hit, in which Kenyatta dies in a shootout with the forces of a white financier who profits from the flow of drugs into the ghetto.
Although he became a successful novelist, Goines was never able to overcome his strong addiction to heroin. Much of the income from sales of his novels went toward the purchase of drugs. In an attempt to break the patterns that were feeding his addiction, Goines and his wife moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, Goines entered several drug treatment programs. Eventually, he and his wife returned to the Detroit area and settled in the enclave of Highland Park. On October 21, 1974, Goines and his wife were murdered in their apartment during a robbery.
Goines’ writings have remained extremely popular among African American readers. All of his novels remain in print and some adherents of gangster rap have proclaimed themselves fans of his writing. In 1996, Goines’s 1974 novel Daddy Cool was reissued as part of the “Old School” series published by the W.W. Norton Company. Donald Goines, who regarded his writing as the pinnacle of his life’s work, would have been proud.
Dopefiend: The Story of a Black Junkie, Holloway House, 1971.
Whoreson: The Story of a Ghetto Pimp, Holloway House, 1971.
Black Gangster, Holloway House, 1972.
Black Girl Lost, Holloway House, 1972.
Street Players, Holloway House, 1973.
White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief, Holloway House, 1973.
Daddy Cool, Holloway House, 1974 (reissued by W.W. Norton, 1996).
Eldorado Red, Holloway House, 1974.
Never Die Alone, Holloway House, 1974.
Swamp Man, Holloway House, 1974.
Inner City Hoodlum, Holloway House, 1975.
As Al C. Clark (series: Kenyatta)
Crime Partners, Holloway House, 1974.
Cry Revenge!, Holloway House, 1974.
Death List, Holloway House, 1974.
Kenyatta’s Escape, Holloway House, 1974.
Kenyatta’s Last Hit, Holloway House, 1975.
Contemporary Authors, volume 124, Gale, 1988.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, volume 80, Gale, 1994.
Pederson, Jay P. ed., St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers, St. James Press, 1996.
Stone, Eddie, Donald Writes No More, Holloway House, 1974, repr. with epilogue 1988.
Entertainment Weekly, July 25, 1997, p. 66.
Melus, Fall 1984, p. 41.
Village Voice, August 4, 1987, p. 48.
—James M. Manheim
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