Library to put pulp fiction on display

University of Otago special collections librarian Donald Kerr with some of the pulp fiction...
University of Otago special collections librarian Donald Kerr with some of the pulp fiction exhibits which will be revealed next week. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Pulp fiction becomes pulp fact at an exhibition opening in Dunedin next Friday.

University of Otago library special collections will display a collection of pulp fiction books which were published in Australia after the country banned United States pulp fiction novels.

"The Australian Government put them under embargo, because they were regarded as a non-essential import at the start of the war in 1939," librarian Donald Kerr said.

"A vocal minority in Australia also felt the American magazines coming through were ruining their society.

"So they started their own pulp industry.

"So you had writers in Sydney writing Westerns, romances, science fiction and about PIs and their dames drinking whisky in Las Vegas.

"They'd do 18 to 24 titles a month, with 20,000 printings of each title. One writer used 22 pseudonyms and churned out over 300 titles," he said.

"The covers are delicious and definitely not PC; curvy dames, whisky-sodden men with hats, cigarettes and smoking guns ..."

"A lot of it was raw, raunchy stuff. There had to be a blonde, a brunette, a redhead, someone in bed and someone with a gun."

Pulp fiction took its name from the cheap newsprint paper it was printed on and was penned by some illustrious authors, such as United States writer Gore Vidal, who wrote under the pen name "Edgar Box".

The university library bought the 900-title collection from a Melbourne rare books collector in 2005, for what Dr Kerr called "a good price".

"Some of these are really quite collectable.

"A lot of them have subsequently been reprinted, but originals in good condition can be very costly now.

"As popular culture, they're really important publications. If you're looking at the history of reading, these are extremely important.

"They're a great complement to all the 17th and 18th century tomes we've got here.

"This collection will form an invaluable resource for literary scholars, social historians, art historians, book designers, artists, and of course pulp-vintage paperback readers," Dr Kerr said.

"We'd be given a picture of the cover and were given the title, along with a few words," pulp fiction writer Audrey Armitage recalled.

"From that, you prepared the plot and wrote the story. One of the rules of the game was that you started off with a body - either two in bed or somebody dead."

"Pulp Fiction" opens in the de Beer Gallery at the University of Otago library special collections section on August 27 and runs till December 10.

- nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

 

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