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Pulp Fiction at the Library

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Facsimile cover, Flynn’s Detective Fiction, August, 1944.

“Murder Straight Ahead,” “Yesterday I Lived!”, “The Lonely Corpse” (Flynn’s Detective Fiction, August 1944). With titles like these, who could resist these stories?

In an era before television or even paperback books, people found excitement and entertainment in the form of pulp fiction magazines. Published mostly between the 1920s and 1950s, these juicy stories were popular with a wide variety of audiences.

Pulp fiction covered a number of genres from romance to westerns and many authors like Raymond Chandler and Ray Bradbury got their start by writing stories for them. Some of the pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories even helped to form science fiction into a genre. “They were made to be thrown away,” noted independent researcher Karl Schadow, but they were also a “great part of American popular culture at the time.” Schadow finds himself researching the pulp stories because many of them, he pointed out, were also turned into radio dramas. Using the Library’s collection of pulp fiction, he is able to document the literary works of authors such as Robert Bloch, best known for his novel Psycho, who frequently wrote for pulps before becoming famous. Not many libraries saved copies of these publications, but now they are starting to be recognized for their literary value and for their artwork.

Cover details, clockwise from top left: All Detective Magazine (April 1933), Air Wonder Stories (November 1929), Future Science Fiction (March 1952), All Western Magazine (May 1932), G-Men (May 1939), Ardent Love (January 1934).

The Library of Congress has preserved an excellent collection of this bygone format with most of the collection available in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room. With more than 800 reels of microfilm, more than 200 facsimile volumes, and over 9,000 original covers, researchers can find stories and artwork from many pulp magazine titles here. The original covers that we saved are in archival enclosures so that the colorful artwork can still be seen, studied, and enjoyed. Some of the best known titles, however, are safely kept in our Rare Book Reading Room: Amazing Stories, Black Mask, and Weird Tales.

Facsimile volumes, Serial & Government Publications Division.

The pulp magazines can be located in our catalog by the title of the magazine, but not the title of each individual story. To learn more about the stories, the authors, and the magazines, we have a great collection of reference books to help you out. And of course, we are always happy to answer your questions!

Reference books covering pulp fiction from the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room.

Learn more about our collections:

Pulp Fiction at the Library of Congress
Saving Pulp Fiction

Do you have a favorite pulp magazine, story, author, or artist? Let us know in the comments!

Comments (2)

  1. I was referred to you by another librarian. Can you check your holdings for these pulp magazines for me?

    Real Detective Tales – Jan through May 1931, Feb 1933

    Lariat Story – Feb 1935

    Amazing Detective – March & April 1931

    Clues Detective – Jan 1931

    Mystery Magazine – Feb 15, 1926

    Prize Detective – Dec 1929, Feb 1930

    Startling Detective – Dec 1933

    thank you

    • Great question, Lynn. We will follow up with you about these titles through our Ask A Librarian service.

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