“The definitive biography of an African American writer whose depictions of sexuality, racism and social injustice were often more sensational than revered.”
Featured in Washington Post’s 50 Notable Non-Fiction Books of 2017.
“Chester Himes’ life story, as described in this vivid biography, is just as surreal as those detective novels (like Cotton Comes to Harlem) that boosted his literary reputation.”
Featured in NPR’s Book Concierge Great Reads of 2017.
Deemed as “one of the towering figures of the black literary tradition” by Henry Louis Gates Jr., as “the best writer of mayhem yarns since Raymond Chandler” by the San Francisco Chronicle and “a quirky American genius” by Walter Mosely, Chester B. Himes is the twentieth century’s most prolific black writer.
He captured the spirit of his times so expertly that the images are clear even today. He left a distinctive mark on American literature and his work is being celebrated in this biography written by Lawrence P. Jackson.
With unrestricted access to Himes’s full archives and exclusive interviews, Jackson provides intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the mind of the controversial American writer. Himes’s novels portray an unflinching stand that confronts sex, racism and black identity. His novels, If He Hollers Let Him Go, a brutal rendition of racial politics, and Cotton Comes, a Harlem detective series, both made him famous. As such a serious literary tastemaker in his day, Himes had developed friendships, as uneasy as they may have sometimes been, with such celebrities as Ralph Ellison, Carl Van Vechten and Richard Wright.
Jackson’s work in this biography is truly amazing. He sheds light on the Himes eventful life (1909–1984), from 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.
This biography gives life to the legacy of this man torn between his aspirations for commercial success and his disturbingly vivid portraits of the United States and it racial division.
Michael P. Jeffries of the New York Times Book Review sums up this book in one sentence, “Chester B. Himes is a bracing journey through the life of an uncompromising writer.”