Brooklyn Heights Noir: NY Times Remembers Albert Halper

Albert Halper (1904-1984) was born and raised on Chicago’s West Side, where, as this New York Times “City Room” piece quotes him, he was bothered by “the strong odor from the stockyards rolling in heavy waves all the way from the South Side.” He got away from that and, in his quest to succeed as a writer, came to New York.

Perhaps by happenstance he settled in what is arguably the City’s premier literary neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, moving into a walk-up on Sidney Place. He wrote short fiction, plays, and a number of novels, including Atlantic Avenue (1956), which is set in this neighborhood in the 1950s and, perhaps because of its seedy-looking cover (the illustrator, Arthur Shilstone, says he’d like to forget having done it) seemed to the Times’ Andy Newman an exemplar of “pulp fiction.” On February 27, Newman posted the cover in the “City Room” blog and, under the headline “Want to be a Pulp Fiction Writer? Here’s Your Chance”, invited readers to write a first paragraph for the novel.

Unfortunately, your correspondent missed this opportunity to show his talent in depicting the seamier side of life, and rest assured he would have alerted you, our loyal readers, to this chance. The deadline for submissions was February 29; on March 2, the 28 finalists were published. You have until tomorrow to vote (follow the link immediately above) for the winner.

Halper’s son, Thomas, who heads the political science department at CUNY’s Baruch College, is quoted in today’s Times piece as thinking it unfair to characterize his father as a “pulp” writer. Indeed, though its hard to read on the reproduction of the cover above, it bears a blurb from no less than Nobel literature laureate Sinclair Lewis: “An authentic novelist…ranks with…Hemingway, Dos Passos, Faulkner, MacKinlay Kantor, John O’Hara”. I’m surprised that Lewis didn’t mention Halper’s fellow Chicagoan, James T. Farrell.

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  • Andrew Porter

    There is a vast difference between so-called “pulp fiction”—which has come about because of the famous movie of the same name—and fiction in the Pulp Magazines, which were called that because of the type of paper they were printed on. Pulp magazines lasted from the beginning of the 20th century through the mid-1950s, killed off by changes in magazine distribution and the rise of the mass-market paperback. They are still beloved by collectors, and there’s an annual convention, “PulpFest”, held in Columbus, Ohio, which celebrates the genre, and where fans buy and sell the magazines, plus original cover artwork, original manuscripts, letters, and all the ephemera related to this fading part of literary history.

    Cover artists, incidentally, take their cues from editors and art directors—and, nowadays, from marketing departments—and the author of a work has no input into the final cover appearance.

  • stuart

    “She didn’t usually dress so well to go to the office but then, it’s not every day you kill a man”

    -so many fantastic opening paragraphs! Loved them!!

  • Hicks St Guy

    if DeAngelo doesn’t win, the fix is in!

  • David on Middagh

    Looks like DeAngelo is a winner! I also enjoyed the one beginning, “The most I could say for Mrs. Oliver Adrietti…”