Having been in the Freshman Comp game for more than 15 years all told, there are some authors I’m tired of reading about, to the point that I don’t really feel I can give papers about them a fair reading. (As it happens, these are also authors who are the subjects of many putatively recyclable high school papers, so there’s that, too.) The authors in question include Poe, Maya Angelou, and especially Langston Hughes. J.K. Rowling will likely join the list very soon. (I get a lot of requests for Dr. Seuss as well — I still allow those, because I get a kick out of watching the kids freak out when they discover some of the subtexts.)
These days, when kids propose writing papers on those folks, I tend to try to point them in other, parallel directions. Some of my suggestions include Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Toni Morrison, Lord Dunsany, Oliver Onions, Rita Dove, Chester Himes… and Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck. Typically, the kids don’t know who any of these people are, but it’s fun watching them find out. And in the case of Iceberg Slim, it’s even more fun to see kids discover how much their cultural world owes to him, for better or worse.
At the Chronicle Review this week, there’s an interesting article about Iceberg Slim and his influence on popular culture, with side excursions into the African American pulp press of Beck’s era. The article’s author is a bit intrusive — OK, maybe a lot intrusive — but it’s still a neat piece. Check it out.