Chester Himes memorial via Wikimedia
CAIRO – 4 September 2017: A biography written by Lawrence P. Jackson sheds light on a major black literary figure that has sadly been forgotten, Chester B. Himes.
‘Chester B. Himes: A Biography’ is a comprehensive look at the life of a man who rose from crime and jail time to become an accomplished author, influential to the history of black literature, and publishing well over 20 books that explored race and sexuality.
Himes was born in 1909 to a wealthy and educated black family in Jefferson City, but his promising start was not to last as his family grew poorer. Turning to crime, Himes was arrested for petty robbery in 1928.
Ironically, this helped propel him to writing as he earned more working from prison than he did outside, and his experiences in jail helped inspire much of his writing.
After going on parole in 1936, Himes was on the road to an almost fifty-year long literary career and international success. Himes's body of work was varied, from detective stories to autobiographical stories about his life.
His breakthrough novel, ’If He Hollers Let Him Go’, published in 1946 was Himes's first taste of recognition and acclaim, and was praised by one of Himes's literary heroes and inspirations, Richard Wright. Post-WWII Himes influenced and worked alongside numerous famous black authors, such as Wright himself, Ollie Harrington and James Baldwin.
Funnily enough, Himes's work was never truly noticed while he lived in America, as he only began to achieve considerable attention after he moved abroad to Paris, where his detective novels found an audience. His 1947 novel 'A Lonely Crusade' was banned by American leftists and praised in France.
Jackson's biography goes beyond simply describing Himes's life, going as far as to detail his genealogy and his relationships to his family members, showcasing the way they influenced him. Jackson's careful eye brought together every detail of Himes's life to provide the most comprehensive look at his life to date.
Himes passed away on November 12, 1984.