Syracuse University Magazine


Pulp Culture

Orange Pulp, a recent exhibition at Bird Library and SUArt Galleries, showed off the University’s extraordinary collections of paintings and magazine covers that are central artifacts of a uniquely American literary and visual aesthetic that flourished during the first half of the 20th century.  Gaining its name from the confluent meanings of “the soft, exposed fleshy part of a fruit” and “the cheap paper used to print mass-produced literature,” pulp was criticized by highbrows for its depictions of gratuitous violence, which were often set in racist and/or misogynistic contexts. But it was appreciated by others as a freewheeling exposé of all of the above at work in American culture. Whatever one’s take on the politics of content, it is more difficult than ever to look away from pulp art, which reached its apogee in the form of the magazine cover.

Syracuse University Library began building a world-class collection in 1967 when it acquired the archive of Street & Smith, a downstate publisher of dime novels and pulp periodicals, including Astounding Stories (sci-fi), Tip Top Weekly (adventure), The Shadow (hero), and Detective Story Magazine (crime mystery). The collection was recently augmented with a gift from Gary Shaheen G’86, who is better known on campus for his work on behalf of community inclusion for people with disabilities. “By day a senior vice president at the Burton Blatt Institute, Gary is, by night, a passionate collector who shares with me a particular affinity for Weird Tales,” says Sean Quimby, director of the library’s Special Collections Research Center. “He agreed to transfer his nearly complete run of that title to the library.” Shaheen, who enhanced the Orange Pulp exhibition by lending it issues of All Story Cavalier Weekly, Black Mask, and other titles, is glad to have found a good home for his prized collection. “Weird Tales is the first pulp magazine I collected, back in high school,” Shaheen says. “I was particularly attracted by its ‘sword and sorcery’ stories, but also enjoyed the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and others. I’m very pleased that SU special collections will preserve the magazines so they can remain a source for study and reading enjoyment for generations to come.” —David Marc


Photos courtesy of SU Special Collections Research Center