Honoring David Goodis: the Poet Laureate of the Bleak

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It was probably the first happy ending featuring David Goodis ever.

Last night, the Library of America and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, hosted “Pulp Fiction: 2 x David Goodis” at the Walter Reade Theater. The event kicked off the Library of America’s release of David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940’s & 50s with a talk between Robert Polito, editor of the new anthology and Geoffrey O’ Brien, editor in chief of Library of America.

David Goodis working on a novel.

The talk was bookended with the screening of two noir films from the 1940’s based on Goodis novels, Nightfall, directed by Jacques Tourneur and the rarely screened Burglar, directed by Paul Wendkos, in which Goodis wrote the screenplay.

Goodis (1917-1967) was one of the grittiest and most prolific of the pulp writers of his time but toiled in obscurity for years before having brief success with Dark Passage, a novel that was turned into a movie featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. He died, all but forgotten on his 50th b-day, according to Polito.

“He’s a curious figure in the pantheon of pulp fiction writing,” O’ Brien said. “Goodis was far more popular in France than he was in America and it’s only been in the last couple of decades that he’s moved to the forefront of crime fiction.”

The Goodis novel Down There became the classic movie Shoot the Piano Player by the French director Francios Truffaut in 1960, reviving interesting in the writer’s work. The writer has mainly been a cult figure, never receiving the acclaim of his contemporaries such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The Library of America hopes that this new volume will change that.

“He was the least hardboiled of the hardboiled writers,” O’Brien said. “His characters are at the mercy of an unjust world and have a hyper sensitivity lacking in other books in the genre.”

Polito said that there was something more avant-garde and experimental about Goodis’s writing than most fiction of that period.

“Goodis has more in common with William Burroughs than he does with his peers,” Polito said. “In his works there is always a sense of how terrifying the world is.”

The Library of America volume collects five Goodis novels including Dark Passage, Nightfall, The Burglar, The Moon in the Gutter and Street of No Return.

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