Summertime … and the Living Ain’t Easy: Black Noir

The Marxist Education Project’s Literature Group continues its summertime tradition of reading noir: the American popular crime genre that investigates the corruption of society. And in these books by Black writers, corruption in the workplace, in unions, and among workers.

“Mystery fiction written by black authors is, not surprisingly, often very different from work in that broadly defined genre written by white writers.” –Black Noir

…and the off-quoted: “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

Thursdays, 7 – 8:30 pm EDT, 9 weekly sessions, via Zoom

June 29 – introduction

July 6 & 13: If He Hollers, Let Him Go

July 20 & 27: A Red Death

August 3 & 10: Black Water Rising

August 17 & 24: The Man Who Changed Colors


If He Hollers, Let Him Go by Chester Himes
(originally published in 1947, reprint edition 2002, 224 pages)

Chester Hines, author of the novels The Real Cool Killers and Cotton Comes To Harlem (two in the series of his Harlem detective novels), among others. At the time of its publication in 1947, If He Hollers, Let Him Go was dismissed as “second-rate social problem literature” by both white and black critics. If He Hollers, Let Him Go is the story of a man living every day in fear of his life for simply being black is, in fact, as powerful and relevant today as it was when it was first published.

Chester Bomar Himes was born July 29, 1909, into a middle class, well-educated family in Jefferson City, Missouri. He died Nov. 12, 1984 in Moraira, Spain. In general, Himes could be called an African American writer whose novels reflect encounters with racism while describing truths his readers were unready to hear. Himes’ literary genius went relatively unnoticed within the U.S. As an expatriate in Paris, he published a series of black detective novels. A contemporary of Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison, Chester Himes was known for more angry fire than his celebrated colleagues and he wrote about black protagonists doomed by white racism and self-hate.

A Red Death by Walter Mosley
(2010, 322 pages)

Acclaimed crime-fiction writer Walter Mosley’s most famous (or infamous) hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins appears in 10 novels (A Red Death is the second in the series).

It’s 1953 in Red-baiting, blacklisting Los Angeles – a moral tar pit ready to swallow Easy Rawlins. Easy is out of the hurting business and into the housing (and favor) business when a racist IRS agent nails him for tax evasion. Special Agent Darryl T. Craxton, FBI, offers to bail him out if he agrees to infiltrate the First American Baptist Church and spy on an alleged communist organizer.

Walter Mosley is the author of more than 60 critically acclaimed books that cover a wide range of ideas, genres, and forms including fiction (literary, mystery, and science fiction), political monographs, writing guides including Elements of Fiction, a memoir in paintings and a young adult novel called 47. Concerned by the lack of diversity in all levels of publishing, Mosley established The Publishing Certificate Program with the City University of New York to bring together book professional and students hailing from a wide range of racial, ethnic, and economic communities for courses, internships, and job opportunities. Mosley’s direct inspirations include the detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett, Graham Greene, and Raymond Chandler.

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
(2009, 452 pages)

“This extraordinary debut focuses on Jay Porter, a black lawyer in Houston struggling to become upwardly mobile while weighed down by a past as a civil rights worker who was betrayed and disillusioned. His moral fiber is put to the test when he’s witness to a murder that eventually places him and his pregnant wife in jeopardy. It’s a good thriller setup, but what distinguishes Locke’s story are the glimpses into Porter’s past, which, in turn, focus on the racial rebellions on campuses in the ’60s. Dion Graham’s whispery, almost sing-song narration seems initially inappropriate, but, oddly, as the plot unfolds, this approach morphs into a mesmerizing intimacy that makes Locke’s riveting prose even more compelling.”  – Publishers Weekly

Attica Locke is a NY Times best-selling author of five novels. Heaven, My Home, sequel to the Edgar Award-winning Bluebird, BluebirdPleasantville, winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and long-listed for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction; The Cutting Season, winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence; and her debut Black Water Rising, which was nominated for an Edgar Award, an NAACP Image Award, as well as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was short-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.  A former fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab, Locke is also a screenwriter and TV producer, with credits that include Empire, When They See Us and the Emmy-nominated Little Fires Everywhere, for which she won an NAACP Image award for television writing.

The Man Who Changed Colors by Bill Fletcher Jr.
(2023, 356 pages)

Bill Fletcher Jr.’s mystery novel delves into the complicated relationships between Cape Verdean Americans and African Americans, liberation movements in Cape Verde, Portuguese and Greek fascists taking root in the United States, and shipyard working conditions that include a worker falling to his death. In The Man Who Changed Colors, all these issues intertwine as investigative journalist David Gomes keeps asking questions about that shipyard worker’s death. His dogged pursuit of the truth puts his life in danger and upends the scrappy Cape Cod newspaper he works for. Fletcher discussed his book at a recent Marxist Education Project event.

Bill Fletcher Jr. has been an activist since his teen years. Upon graduating from college, he went to work as a welder in a shipyard, thereby entering the labor movement. Over the years he has been active in workplace and community struggles as well as electoral campaigns. He has worked for several labor unions in addition to serving as a senior staff person in the national AFL-CIO. Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941 and the author of ‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And twenty other myths about unions.