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Mama Black Widow

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  582 ratings  ·  51 reviews
"Mama Black Widow" is the nickname of Otis Tilson, a comely and tragic black queen adrift with his brothers and sisters in the dark ghetto world of pimpdom and violent crime. His story is told in the gut-level language of the homosexual underworld-an unforgettable testament of life lived on the margins of a racist and predatory urban hell.
Mass Market Paperback, 0 pages
Published January 1st 1969 by Holloway House
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Blair Blanchard
Aug 19, 2007 Blair Blanchard rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: YO MAMA!
dark, graphic and real... the author doesn't skim on being polite about anything... you don't get many voices like this in American fiction... highly recommend
This is a very graphic and gritty novel but not for the squeamish, faint of heart or those who want a happy ending because a happy ending you're not going to get. I must say it was probably one of the most nailbiting page turning protrayals of inner city 1930s black urban life. I seriously could not put it down as much as I wanted to at some points.

The story is about Otis Tilson, otherwise known as Sally or Tilly by his cross dressing pals or Sweet Pea by the arachnoid mother of the title.

I'm coming down the home stretch of reading everything Iceberg Slim wrote, and I'm glad this one was saved for the endgame. I think I have one or two more left, and then I'm done.

Like most of Slim's work, very few punches are pulled. As a matter of fact, I can't think of a single instance of Slim pulling a punch. He tells it like it is. I found PIMP to be one of the bleakest, most depressing books I've ever read, and MAMA BLACK WIDOW is cut from this cloth.

One word that I've never heard used to
Tami Egonu
I've re-read this novel after many years and continue to love Iceberg Slim's gritty, great, poetic writing/language. The subject matter is brutal, honest and really tragic, written by a man who experienced and saw enough to give a voice (in this case to Otis )to those caught up in the dark underbelly of family and life in Chicago in the early 20th century. It's a masterpiece for a reason. Not for the faint hearted.
This is a tough book to read but once you get through the first chapter and enter Otis' life you will find this a hard book to put down. Iceberg Slim provides a window into the life of a Black family that like so many others at that time joined the migration to the 'promised land', the North. They struggled to survive in the most difficult of circumstances. It is a tragedy but a real portrayal of the inhumane suffering that one family and others in their time in history in the Chicago ghetto sou ...more
Endlessly grim, but written with wit and verve.

I'm surprised this book doesn't have more traction as a document of the bad old days of queer history - I had never heard of it before last week. It's a negative portrayal, yes, but it deals quite honestly with self-hatred and the pain and complications that follow from that.

I'll admit that I enjoyed this as a melodramatic page-turner, although the relentless tragedy goes over the top by the midpoint and there's at least as much Perils of Pauline as
It's not easy being a queer black man. Especially in 1940s - 50s Chicago.

I read this because I was in the mood for something pulpy. This isn't a review, just some things I want to note so I can remember the language used.

"Ah jes hate white folks so much, Ah'm gonna' bus mah haht opun iffen Ah don bile en the leckrik chair. Ah got tu git way frum white folks, an stay way." - Mama

"Ain't yu uh blip, Mama dahlin'? Heah ah am fatern uh goose wif frogskins an kickin' yo doe down whilst yu playin' pos
Victoria Moore
When I read Iceberg Slim's book "Pimp" I was so intrigued by the subject matter of his book "Mama Black Widow" that I had to read it. Stylish and poetic, with a tragic twist, the story about Otis "Tilly" (Sally) Tilson, a glamorous drag queen struggling to survive in Chicago, Illinois is painful and graphic enough to make it highly melodramatic but compelling all the same. Despite that,it still has a lovely humanistic side that made me really care about the characters and what they go through i ...more
Apr 23, 2013 Pharaohess rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Pharaohess by: Noone
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tamika Trammel
I couldn't finish this book. Too spiritually painful for me to read right now. I'll come back to it later in life, probably, just because I don't like to leave books I've started unfinished. A great book depicting the evils of the human spirit in different skin colors and sexes.
Mama Black Widow is brutal. Nothing good happens in this book. The happiest thing that happened was a childhood Christmas in which the mother makes stars for the tree out of the saved-up foil from packs of cigarettes and even that has an element of bleakness.

Review published on the Denver Public Library website
Ka Nesmith
I've read all of his books, all of which could be screenplays, but this might be my favorite of his catalog.
The real deal... Descriptive and visual raw!
Another bleak, gritty, and occasionally brutal tale of black inner-city life from the author of Pimp The Story of My Life (the only other Iceberg Slim novel I've ever read). "Mama Black Widow" tells the true story of Otis Tilson, a gay drag queen growing up in 1930s and '40s Chicago. Definitely not feel-good reading. Slim pulls no punches in his descriptions of violence and poverty and the book is full of colourful racist language.
Dark novel but a good read.
Eva Leger
Jun 27, 2009 Eva Leger rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my nephew first comes to mind
Recommended to Eva by: myself
Shelves: b-urban-fiction
I don't know what I was expecting from this but it was somewhat different from what I did think it would be like. Not to say it's bad- it's certainly not- I enjoyed it. It took a little while to get into for me, a little longer than I thought it would for sure, but once I got into it there was no turning back.
The main character, Otis, is so real you feel like he's your brother (or sister depending...) I was in awe of how much I was into the story once I really fell into it.
I can't wait to read
Ula Lechtenberg
Book Club selection for Adult Popular Literature
Christopher Herz
To me, this is one of the classics of the second half of the 20th century. A first person narrative where Slim takes on the personality of a truly complex individual. His dealings with Race, the expansion of the inner city, the terror of the south, and the experience of what it means to be left out of the mainstream is incredible.

There are passages in this book that are still with me today. It is a novel that every American should read if they really want to understand the country they live in.

Ouch. The terrible things that happen in this book are difficult to quantify. Every time I thought things couldn't get worse for Otis a.k.a. Tillie a.k.a. Sweet Pea a.k.a Sally, they just did.
This book is was supposedly told as a first person account to Iceberg Slim, who formatted and adjusted it into a story. I don't remember much from Pimp, but the dialogue in this book certainly does sound like an awkward re-telling, which doesn't necessarily hurt the story.
I chose "Mama Black Widow" after I read "Pimp" by the same author. The reviews said it was the most "racy". It was the story of a homosexual transvestite. Once again, Robert Beck, as Iceberg Slim delivers a tragic tale of Otis Tillman "Tillie", giving us an inside glance at the desperate attempt at self-fulfillment in a severely limited environment. Beck is realistic in the sexual encounters, but he does not overdue it. Does this level of racism still exist?
Sep 08, 2007 Tosh rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Real literature lovers
It is amazing to me that Iceberg Slim is not more well known in the American mainstream press or even in schools. "Mama Black Widow" is probably one of the great American novels of the 20th Century. If this was going to be a film, only someone like Fassbinder could have filmed it. Also his "Pimp" should be required reading as well.

I wrote an essay on Iceberg Slim on my TamTam Books Blog:

A great read.

This book is a page turner. It was a learning experience inside of one man's struggle. This book has sexual content. However, it wasn't overwhelming.
So far, so good. Iceberg to me is better than Steinbeck; more readable, less overblown. The power is less in his characters but more in how he portrays humanity. There is no evil human, only evil actions, and they all stem from want. I was expecting more pulp and less literature when I checked this out from the library (undeniable prejudice on my part), and I must admit, I haven't been this tied to a book for a long time.
Doris walkins
Robert Beck writed about the underground black community of the 50s and 60's primarily but also the 70's. In this one, the subject is a man who is struggling with his queer identity. This book is so before its time. The ease and comfort with which he discusses the black queer community is awesome bc let most black folks from that era tell it, there were and are no gay black people and this is so contrary to that
I read the edition reissued by Old School Books, a series that I love of vintage African-American writing. This book tells the story of a family who moved to Chicago in the Great Migration, but through the eyes of schizophrenic crossdresser named Otis, who sometimes goes by Sally. The setting provides a snapshot of Chicago and its pre-Stonewall gay community, even with its oppression and violence.
At the time I decided to read this book, I did so because I heard it was going to be made into a movie and I was curious. If typos don't bother you, this is a very good story. It's a very realistic look into the life of a "queer." This book was published in 1969, but the story is timely. Save for some of the slang used, it would be easy to imagine it being written today.
Wow... that pretty much sums up my review! I hadn't read an Iceberg Slim book before, but have read Donald Goines so I didn't go into this story blind. This story is just plain sad, yet enthralling. I think its a street lit classic.
Very, VERY, raw in the usual Iceberg Slim style. Great glimpse into middle 20th Century black Chicago.
A classic. Hair-raising, brutally funny, deeply tragic ghetto vignettes delivered with masterful style. It has some of the most hilarious and also jaw-droppingly disturbing scenes I've ever read.
Jul 15, 2010 Fredericka rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: To anyone
this book goes to show that predjudice have and probably will always be a part of this world, I felt bad for the character in this book, it also was a true story, Discrimination is such a wasted emotion.
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Iceberg Slim, also known as Robert Beck, was born as Robert Lee Maupin. Novelist and poet whose most famous novel, Pimp, is semi-autobiographical.
More about Iceberg Slim...
Pimp: The Story of My Life Trick Baby Long White Con Airtight Willie and Me Death Wish

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