Today in Literary History – November 12, 1984 – Chester Himes dies

Ond of my favourite writers, Chester Himes,  died on this date, November 12, 1984. He had a remarkable career, two in fact, and fought against stereotypes all his life.

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Himes came from a middle class Black family, his mother was a teacher and his father was a college professor. Himes, however was drawn to the darker side of life. At 19, and in college himself, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to prison.

He was paroled after seven years of his 20 year sentence. During his prison time he wrote short stories and submitted them to magazines. Many of them were published, including one in Esquire.

After his release he published a novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go, about racial stratification and racism’s relationship with misogyny. It is a harrowing read.

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The racial culture in America was intolerable for Himes and he moved to Paris in the nineteen fifties. There he wrote a series of detective stories set in Harlem that made him famous.

I read him first after seeing the movie version of one of his novels, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and have been a fan ever since.

Earlier this year I read a well researched and nuanced biography of Himes by Lawrence P. Jackson. I recommend it, but I recommend Himes books even more.

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