Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Cool World by Warren Miller

Second edition paperback copy of The Cool World from 1964 
First published in 1959, The Cool World is the most famous of Warren Miller's work (all of which is relatively unknown) about a youth gang called the "Crocadiles" in 1950's Harlem, New York City. Narrated in the first person by the protagonist and Crocadile member Duke, The Cool World recounts the story of Duke and his gang's adventures and travails as they deal with street life in the ghetto and a rival gang called the Wolves. Drug dealing, fights, prostitution, guns, and gambling are rampant throughout this engaging, slim novel that rarely has a dull moment. Written entirely in African-American street vernacular of the time, Miller—a caucasian academic—accomplished a great, and mostly unnoticed, linguistic and narrative feat with this novel. The Cool World has been out of print since the late 1960's, but paperback copies aren't too difficult to come by—the featured copy above was published by Crest Books, a subsidiary of Little, Brown. Slightly better known than Miller's novel is a film adaptation by Shirley Clarke of the same name, also from 1964, which happens to be playing at Film Forum in New York on January 13th and 14th. I strongly suggest seeing it if you live in the five boroughs, as well as locating a copy of this forgotten novel.

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