Goines - "Never Die Alone"     

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3/24/2004 8:07:50 PM
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Goines - "Never Die Alone"
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His was undoubtedly the path least traveled toward literary achievement: Pimp. Armed robber. Convict. Heroin addict. In his abbreviated time on this earth, Donald Goines, murdered in 1974 at 36, was all of the above. And yet he became one of the most popular black pulp-fiction writers of the 1970's, producing 16 paperback novels in under five years.

Tomorrow the movie "Never Die Alone," adapted from Goines's 1974 book of the same name, is to open across the country. It is the first Goines work to become a major motion picture. (In 2001 the movie version of his "Crime Partners" went straight to DVD.) Starring the rapper and actor DMX as King David, a ruthless drug dealer, and David Arquette as Paul, a reporter whose fortunes are suddenly changed by a chance encounter with King David, the film is told in flashbacks and is a dark look at one man's fruitless search for redemption.

"Never Die Alone" comes at a time when Goines's novels are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, fueled by prison literacy programs, hip-hop music and now academia. In Crime and Punishment in American Literature, a course at Rutgers University this spring, Goines's debut novel, "Dopefiend," will be taught alongside classics by Upton Sinclair, Herman Melville and Frederick Douglass. His books, which painstakingly explore society's sordid underbelly, are must-reads for prison inmates across the country.

"Donald Goines is across the board our most requested writer," said Mary Driscoll, an outreach librarian who works with the Dane County Jail in Wisconsin. "Because he lived the life, his books really speak to that population."

Ernest R. Dickerson, who directed "Never Die Alone" and spent many years as Spike Lee's cinematographer, has already signed on to direct "Daddy Cool," a film based on Goines's novel of the same name about a hit man intent on preventing his daughter from becoming a prostitute.

Nowhere is Goines more popular, however, than in the hip-hop world. Goines, a forefather of gangsta rap, is often referenced in song. Tupac Shakur calls him a "father figure" in the lyrics for "Tradin' War Stories." Nas's song "Black Girl Lost" borrows its title and theme from Goines's 1973 novel about an adolescent who resorts to stealing and drug pushing to support herself. Jadakiss lists Goines's books as one of his obsessions in Vibe's forthcoming June issue. On "Eyebrows Down," a song from his latest album "Chicken 'n' Beer," the Southern rapper Ludacris rhymes about buying Goines. There is even an aspiring rapper from Brooklyn who calls herself Lady Goines.

Why the continued interest in a man whose last book was written 30 years ago? "He was a real storyteller," said DMX, who, like many Goines fans, first encountered that author's lurid tales while incarcerated. "You read his books and you feel like you're right there."

Rich Nice, a D.J. for the New York hip-hop station Hot 97 (WQHT-FM, 97.1), said Goines spoke to a segment of society that had not changed much since the 70's. "I could read excerpts from his book, change some names and the streets, and think I'm reading a story that happened last week."

Goines's books continue to resonate with black urban males, an audience largely ignored by publishing houses that have found cottage industries in commercial authors like Terry McMillan, marketed to black women, and E. Lynn Harris, who writes primarily for a black gay male audience.

As a result Goines's books still sell more than 200,000 copies a year, according to Bentley Morriss, chief executive of Holloway House, the small Los Angeles publisher of Goines and the hugely popular Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck). Mr. Morriss estimates that sales of Goines's books have surpassed five million.

Goines's narratives offer a painfully vivid account of the black underworld, where Cadillacs, crooked cops and dilapidated buildings abound and whores, corner hustlers, pushers and thieves thr

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