One of the coolest things about working in publishing is when you realize that an author you've known only via one or two books they've done for you has led a totally rad and interesting life unbeknownst to you and your fickle eye. Such is the case with one-shot HUP author Cecil Brown, profiled in the Berkeley Daily Planet. Brown's reminiscences read like a who's-who of 20th-century black America -- Jesse Jackson, Amiri Baraka (who was still LeRoi Jones when Brown met him), Huey Newton, and Richard Pryor all figure into the life story of a guy who seems to have been everywhere. Brown's novel The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger, orginally published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1969, is sort of a forgotten classic -- Gerald Early, for one, remembers it as one of the "three books that everybody just had to read" during his high school years.
Brown's contribution to the HUP list (Stagolee Shot Billy, out in paperback) tracks the origin and development of the Stagolee legend, chronicled in countless songs from the ragtime era right up until the present day. Delving into a subculture of St. Louis known as "Deep Morgan," Cecil Brown emerges with the facts behind the legend to unfold the mystery of Stack Lee and the incident that led to his murder of "Billy" in 1895. The book was one of Esquire's "Best of 2003" and was praised everywhere from the New York and LA Times Book Reviews to Playboy.