Chester B. Himes: A Biography

Chester B. Himes: A Biography

by Lawrence P. Jackson


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Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson

Winner of the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical Work
A Washington Post Notable Book
The definitive biography of the groundbreaking African American author who had an extraordinary legacy on black writers globally.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 Mosely). 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393063899
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 07/25/2017
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 779,650
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Lawrence P. Jackson is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and History at Johns Hopkins University. Author of Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius, The Indignant Generation, and My Father’s Name, he has been published in n+1 and Harper’s. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Table of Contents

Prologue xi

Chapter 1 Old School Negro: 1909-1914 1

Chapter 2 The Southern Crosses the Yellow Dog: 1914-1925 27

Chapter 3 Banquets and Cocaine Balls: 1925-1928 48

Chapter 4 Gray City of Exiled Men: 1928-1936 77

Chapter 5 White Folks and the Days: 1936-1941 109

Chapter 6 Ruin of the Golden Dream: 1941-1944 142

Chapter 7 Trying to Win a Home: 1944-1945 180

Chapter 8 Monkey An' the Lion: 1946-1948 212

Chapter 9 Inflicting a Wound Upon Himself: 1948-1952 247

Chapter 10 Cadillacs to Cotton Sacks: 1952-1954 274

Chapter 11 Othello: 1954-1955 315

Chapter 12 A Pistol in his Hand, Again: 1955-1959 350

Chapter 13 Five Cornered Square: 1959-1962 399

Chapter 14 Cotton Comes to Harlem: 1963-1965 430

Chapter 15 A Moor in Spain: 1965-1972 454

Chapter 16 Afro-American People's Novelist: 1972-1984 490

Notes 499

Acknowledgments 577

Index 581

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