Memos from Purgatory by Harlan Ellison (Regency Books, 1961)


 

 

 

 

While William Hamling’s Greenleaf Publishing was putting out Imagination SF, Rouge Magazine, and Nightstand Books, there was also the Regency imprint, a second-tier paperback line that published crime, literary, and non-fiction books acquired by Harlan Ellison, who was also editing Rogue and Nightstand. Ellison published, with Regency, the first editions of Gentleman Junkie and Memos from Purgatory.

Playing sociologist or journalist, or even ethnographer,  Ellison decided to join an actual Brooklyn street gang and write about that life rather than rely on news items and imagination as other juvie gang writers did.  he joined the barons for ten weeks, resulting in the novel Web of the City (aka Rumble), the collections The Deadly Streets and The Juvies, and one half of Memos from Purgatory, which also became an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Hour, starring James Caan as Ellison, sort of, and Walter Koenig as the gang prez.

George Edgar Sluser, in Unrepntant Harelquin: Harlan Ellison, a Borgo monograph from the 70s, contends this book is one of Ellison’s weakest, when still figuring out his non-fiction voice, though does note its sociological merits.  Mainly, it is even because the two parts do not exactly make this a whole book but a book of two long essays.

The second part is an extended essay from The Village Voice about Ellison’s arrest and time in The Tombs, New York City’s jail,  for being in possession of items from his gang research: a .22 zip gun and brass knuckles, etc. It is not only a scathing critique of the law, the cops, and the system, but works as an examination of cause and effect: how past research has continued negative effects.

The most interesting aspect, in terms of the this blog, is its original publication by William Hamling as the two were also putting out the Nightstand books.

There are have been several reprinting of Memos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Responses to “Memos from Purgatory by Harlan Ellison (Regency Books, 1961)”

  1. Read this almost 20 years ago so I don’t recall a lot of it. I’ve got the 1983 or so reprint from Ace.

  2. Andrew Porter Says:

    That’s ROGUE Magazine, not ROUGE, which is about the cosmetics game…

  3. Ted White Says:

    Portions of this book are pure fiction, as Harlan told me when he called me up to read me the original dedication. William Hamling had read Harlan’s original Village Voice piece, “Buried in the Tombs,” and told him he should turn it into a book. Regency Books was created for this purpose, and pulled Harlan back to Evanston from NYC.

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