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The Several Lives of Chester Himes

Margolies, Edward and Michel Fabre

22 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0878059083 / ISBN 13: 9780878059089
Published by Univ Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.A., 1998
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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About this Item

First printing. Blue cloth, gilt titles. Photo supplement on coated paper. A biography based on his letters, notes and other documents, with some discussion of his work by two notable scholars. Unread, as new in like DJ. 209 pp. Bookseller Inventory # 2582

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Several Lives of Chester Himes

Publisher: Univ Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition.

Book Type: Book

About this title

Synopsis:

A fascinating blend of hatred and tenderness, of hard-boiled realism and generous idealism colors the writings of Chester Himes. How did this gifted son of the 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?

Chester Himes (1909-1984) had literary genius. Yet in his native country, he is recalled more as the author of successful detective novels (Cotton Comes to Harlem) than as a practitioner of the art of fiction. The genesis of his books is his own autobiography. In If He Hollers, Let Him Go and in the fratricidal shootout of his black detectives Grave Digger and Coffin Ed in Plan B he was an unsparing witness to our changing times. His painful experiences in American indelibly marked his fiction, which is filled with reflections on his difficult relationships, especially with women--his fair-complexioned mother, his African-American first wife Jean, his many white lovers, and finally his English wife Leslie. His career was beset by controversy, and he left America to live on the Left Bank in the colony of expatriates and as a colleague of Richard Wright. Eventually, he settled in Spain.

Drawn from his letters, notebooks, memoirs, and his 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 which fed his ambivalent views on race in America. Hime's Deep South childhood, his adolescence in the Midwest, his young manhood in prison (1928-1936), his years as a menial laborer, his struggles 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 works. This is the bittersweet story of a man who found salvation in writing.

Edward Margolies is Professor Emeritus, English, and American Studies, College of Staten Island, City University of New York. Michel Fabre is Professor Emeritus, American Studies, Universite de la Sorbonne.

Review:

Like many African American writers, Chester Himes (1909-84) found personal and artistic freedom in Europe; his biographers, appropriately, are a French-American duo. They chronicle with perception a stormy life: a respectable, middle-class Southern childhood; rebellion culminating in armed robbery and an eight-year jail term; a writing career during which he won greater acclaim for the mysteries he cranked out for money (most notably Cotton Comes to Harlem) than for more "serious" novels. Edward Margolies and Michel Fabre, who knew Himes, sensitively delineate his complex psyche.

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