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The Several Lives of Chester Himes

The Several Lives of Chester Himes

by Edward Margolies, Michel Fabre

A critical biography that reveals the varied profiles of the expatriate author


A critical biography that reveals the varied profiles of the expatriate author

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As an American who preferred Europe, a published author with a hatred of publishers and a serious writer best known for the potboilers he wrote late in his career, Himes (1909-1984) was also an acerbic African American of partial white ancestry who reduced his contradictory circumstances and nature to race, declaring "if one is a Negro, one is absurd." After eight years in jail for armed robbery committed at age 19 and a homosexual relationship he would later call the most fulfilling of his, Himes produced a wealth of pulpy short stories for Esquire and other magazines in the '30s and '40s, as well as several novels on racial themes (most famously, If He Hollers Let Him Go) which he thought were deliberately smothered by their publishers. Moving to the '50s Paris of better-known friends James Baldwin and Richard Wright, Himes began to write a genre-blending series of what he called Harlem domestic detective storiesseething policiers, such as A Rage in Harlem, that indicted American interracial relations. These often centered on an idea he applied in his life as well: that black men could heal white women, as both were oppressed by white men. Margolies and Fabre, two American studies professors who knew Himes during the last 20 years of his life, draw generously upon Himes's work, letters and notoriously untrustworthy memoirs for this concise, matter-of-fact biography, neither fawning over nor condescending to their complex subject, whose work and life showed his dual obsessions with violence and reform. (June)
Library Journal
Margolies (emeritus, Coll. of Staten Island) and Fabre (emeritus, Universit de la Sorbonne) are probably best known for their work on Richard Wright. It took them almost 15 years to complete this slim biography of Wright's fellow expatriate writer, Himes (author of such popular novels as A Rage in Harlem and Cotton Comes to Harlem). It is easy to see why this project took so long. The authors have done an exhaustive search of archival sources and conducted numerous interviews with Himes's friends and family, resulting in a disturbing portrait of a creative, highly complex man. The authors chronicle his troubled relationship with his parents, his brushes with the law, his life in Europe, his struggles to be considered a "serious" writer, his conflicting views on race relations, and a numbing litany of his affairs (mostly interracial). This is a fascinating, highly readable book best taken in small pieces. Recommended for academic collections.Louis J. Parascandola, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn Campus

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University Press of Mississippi
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.52(d)

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