James Carr’s Bad is an understudied classic that will leave a reader haunted. A PDF of the book is available for free at Libcom, here.
The bulk of the book is about surviving and navigating the decimating prisons and jails of the 1960s and early 1970s (these systems are still engines of demolition on communities and individuals). As has been said by others who have commented on the volume, it is a brutal portrait of the racist carceral system, first and foremost. It is also a portrait of a very complicated individual who found fucking with authority to be a worthwhile task.
Bad is atypical of much post-prison writing in that, rather than tend toward a redemption arc, Carr’s narrative is unapologetic about the stories within. These stories are sometimes funny, heartbreaking, and often intensely violent (including repeated stories of rape), and are often told in a sort of matter-of-fact way that helps illustrate the violence of the prison system. The book also documents how support and movement communities developed during Carr’s time inside, and the myriad types of comradeship that got him and others through. Bad does not discuss Carr’s involvement with the Black Panther Party. Rather, it emphasizes, instead, autonomous activity within the prisons, and his efforts to find joy and build a family after being released.
Bad! was not written by Carr. Rather, Carr told his life in great detail to Dan Hammer (his brother-in-law) and Isaac Cronin, both of whom were immersed in the situationist/pro-situ projects of the 1970s. Hammer and Cronin then wrote the book using Carr’s narrative. Hammer, in his forward to the book, recalls the process:
In a detailed and very informative interview with The Brilliant podcast, Isaac Cronin gave a great deal of detail into the context of the writing of the book, the process of it, and some of the movement and personal dynamics that are relevant to understanding how it came to be. For those who are interested that podcast can be found here. It is of note that Cronin claims there were “ten printings in five editions” in France, but we have only been able to locate two editions (three if one counts the initial paperback and hardcover printings; the third, from 1994, is not in our holdings). Cronin also states there was a Spanish translation of the book, but we haven’t been able to locate it (if anyone who has information about it please reach out!)
This short blog entry will not discuss the specifics of Carr’s life that have been written, or the theories of who murdered him. For those interested in those discussions we recommend David Hilliard’s This Side of Glory (Little, Brown 1993, p. 302 & 381) and Jo Durden-Smith’s Who Killed George Jackson (Knopf 1976, some of which is here). We also recommend this entry on the newafrikan77 blog and reading the penetrating essay by his daughter, Gea Carr, entitled “Remembering my Father” which is available online, here.
This short entry will focus specifically on a discussion of the different editions of Bad and some of their context. For those interested in a critical reading of the text and the writing of it, we recommend Simon Rolston’s article entitled “Prison Life Writing, African American Narrative Strategies, and Bad: The Autobiography of James Carr,” published in 2013 and freely available, here.
First English Edition (U.S.) – 1975, Herman Graf Associates
The first edition of Bad was published by Herman Graf Associates – named after publisher Herman Graf, here’s a sort of introduction – and, interestingly, published in mass market form, without a barcode. The book contains Hammer’s forward (which can be found online here) and Betsy Cronin’s afterward (which can be found online here at p. 199). Little has been written about how the book ended up on Herman Graf and how the publisher marketed/distributed it. However, Simon Rolston has provided a very useful note about the publication of the book:
In his interview with The Brilliant podcast, Cronin provides additional detail on the first edition:
The View from the End of the World: Live Interviews from Life in Prison with James Carr by Isaac Cronin and Dan Hammer – LP issued by Folkways Recordings – 1975
The same year that Bad was published by Herman Graf Associates, Folkways Records issued a recording of three portions of the taped interviews:
- “Jimmy describes two incidents involving Muslim leaders which he witnessed when he was a 16-year-old juvenile illegally incarcerated at San Quentin”
- “The Wolf Pack, a black gang started by George Jackson, Jimmy Carr and a few close friends at Tracy when they were all teenagers, formed the basis for all militant black groups in the California prisons after the Muslims. The following story is from the Pack’s younger days – at Soledad in 1960 – and shows how dangerous prison officials considered a few brash black kids having fun.”
- “After a round of ‘bus therapy,’ being shuttled around the state while the authorities tried to figure out what to do with him, Jimmy was sent back to San Quentin. What follows is his overview of how a rebel convict feels in that giant man-trap at the end of the world.”
The LP contains a booklet with excerpts from the book and a short biography of Carr – a scan of the front and back of the LP as well as the accompanying booklet can be downloaded as PDF, here. Folkways Records is now owned by the Smithsonian Institution who have digitized the recordings and made them available online here.
German Edition -1977 (Editions Nautilus)
To the best of our knowledge, the first non-English language edition of Bad was published by the german anarchist press Editions Nautilus in 1977 under the title Die Feuer der Freiheit: Eine Autobiographie (“The Fires of Freedom: An Autobiography”). The edition includes the introduction by Dan Hammer and the afterword by Betsy Carr. The German translation was done by a person named Pamela Creegan who we have not been able to find any other information about.
First French editions – 1978 (paperback [Stock 2] and hardcover [Hachette])
In 1978 Creve! was published in French, first in paperback (by Stock 2) and then in hardcover (by Hachette). The two 1978 printings of Creve! do not provide additional details as to the context of their publishing, except that the text translated by Daniel Mauroc. Given the situationist involvements of Cronin, it’s our best guess that he would have coordinated this with contacts there. The 1978 hardcover edition is the only time the book has been published in hardbound format.
Second English-language Editions (U.S.) – 1994, Carrol & Graf
The second English-language U.S. edition was published in 1994 by Carrol & Graf. This edition contains a new three page forward by Isaac Cronin, which we have scanned and posted to Libcom, here.
Second French Edition – Editions Ivrea (formerly Champ Libre), 1994
In 1994 Editions Ivrea published a second French edition of the book. We do not hold this edition so do not have much information on it. Some information is available from the publisher, here.
Third English-language Edition (U.K.) – 1995, Pelagian Press
The 1995 edition was published in the U.K. by Pelagian Press, which was run by some of the folks involved with Here & Now, the UK post-situationist/autonomist magazine (archived here). According to a note inside the book there were plans by AK Press to publish a new edition in 1992 but tensions arose and they did not publish it, so Pelagian did a few years later. Here is the note:
This edition also contains an important afterward written by David and Stuart Wise (BM Blob) and the person who ran the small but important UK anarchist journal/publisher News from Everywhere, which was written in 1993. It is available online, here.
Fourth English-language Edition (US/UK) – AK Press, 2002
In 2002 AK Press finally did publish an edition of Bad on their Nabat imprint. This edition contains Cronin’s 1994 forward but not the BM Blob afterward that was found in the ’95 Pelagian edition.
Fifth English-language Edition (US/UK) – Three Rooms Press, 2016
The 2016 edition by Three Rooms Press is, by far, the most professional and mainstream of the editions. The first two pages consist of blurbs about the book. This edition has a powerful forward by Carr’s daughter, Gea Carr, entitled “Remembering My Father: A Personal Essay,” which can be found online, here, as well as a couple of beautiful family photos. The website published by Three Rooms Press for the release of the book also contains some useful information, and is here.
The Three Rooms Press edition does not contain Cronin’s 1994 forward or Dan Hammer’s 1975 introduction.