Chester B. Himes

Chester B. Himes

A Biography

Book - 2017
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Explores Himes' middle-class origins, imprisonment, creative experiences during World War II, and eventual escape to Europe, where he became famous for his Harlem detective series and its themes of sexuality, racism, and social injustice.
"Chester B. Himes has been called 'one of the towering figures of the black literary tradition' (Henry Louis Gates Jr.), 'the best writer of mayhem yarns since Raymond Chandler' (San Francisco Chronicle), and 'a quirky American genius' (Walter Mosley). He was the twentieth century's most prolific black writer, captured the spirit of his times expertly, and left a distinctive mark on American literature. Yet today he stands largely forgotten. In this definitive biography of Chester B. Himes (1909-1984), Lawrence P. Jackson uses exclusive interviews and unrestricted access to Himes's full archives to portray a controversial American writer whose novels unflinchingly confront sex, racism, and black identity. Himes brutally rendered racial politics in the best-selling novel If He Hollers Let Him Go, but he became famous for his Harlem detective series, including Cotton Comes to Harlem. A serious literary tastemaker in his day, Himes had friendships--sometimes uneasy--with such luminaries as Ralph Ellison, Carl Van Vechten, and Richard Wright. Jackson's scholarship and astute commentary illuminates Himes's improbable life--his middle-class origins, his eight years in prison, his painful odyssey as a black World War II-era artist, and his escape to Europe for success. More than ten years in the writing, Jackson's biography restores the legacy of a fascinating maverick caught between his aspirations for commercial success and his disturbing, vivid portraits of the United States."--Jacket flap.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2017]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©20
ISBN: 9780393063899
Branch Call Number: 813.54 HIMES JACKSON
Characteristics: xv, 606 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Jan 01, 2018

The American writer Chester Himes is most known for his series of Harlem-set crime novels featuring the duo Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones. Perhaps because of this he's usually just thought of as a genre writer and has not received his critical due. Lawrence P. Jackson's ambitious new biography will go a long way to securing Himes's rightful place in the literary canon. Born in Missouri, Himes spent time in prison as a young man and his early fiction drew from this experience, as well as his experiences as a black man. He was friends (and sometimes rivals) with major black writers like Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin, but never quite achieved their fame. It was maybe more biography than I wanted, but Jackson's biography will likely be the definitive one for years to come and hopefully send more readers to Himes's novels.


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