The Several Lives of Chester Himes

The Writings of Chester Himes are colored by a fascinating blend of hatred and tenderness, of hard-boiled realism and generous idealism. His life was complex, his relationships complicated. How did this gifted son of a respectable southern Black family become a juvenile delinquent? How did he acquire self-esteem and a new sense of identity by writing short stories while in the Ohio State Penitentiary? Drawn from his letters, notebooks, memoirs, and fiction, this straightforward account of Hime’s varied, episodic life attempts to trace the origins of his significant literary gift. It details the socioeconomic, familial, and cultural background that fed his ambivalent view on race in America. His deep South childhood, his adolescence in the Midwest, his young manhood in prison, his years as a menial laborer, his struggle as an author in California and New York City, and finally his glory days as an expatriate and celebrity in France and Spain are plumbed deeply for their effects upon his creative urges and his works. In his native country Himes is recalled more as the author of successful detective novels such as Cotton Comes to Harlem than as a literary master. This critical biography is the bittersweet story of a troubled man who found salvation in writing.

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