The Life and Times of Chester Himes
To all my writing friends blog Divas blog Homies and all of my mega maniacs from all over the country Heri ya nwaka mpya ( Happy New Year) In Swahili. Now for everyone out there saying this is your year it is so let’s make it happen,baby! I just want to thank everybody who was down with me all year and for 2020 let’s go get this money. What I’m going to drop on you this year is a name everybody should know but a lot people know so little about is someone I got some of my off the hook style from and one my writing hero’s Chester Himes.
Now if your into hardboiled crime fiction, detective fiction you might know something about Chester Bomar Himes he was born July 29, 1909 in Jefferson City Missouri to Joseph Sandy Himes and Estelle Bomar Himes; his father was a black college professor of industrial trades and his mother was a teacher at Scotia Seminary prior to her marriage to her husband. Chester Himes grew up in a middle- class home in Missouri. When he was 12 years old his father took a teaching job in Pine Bluff Arkansas.
Now his wife Joseph was not happy about her husband taking the job in the deep segregated south. After his wife when along with the move to Arkansas his wife who was really light bright and looked dam near white. And what was little known she like to pass as white some time and she also thought the lighter someone skin the better the person was. His wife Joseph told a hotel manager where they were staying at that she was not a negro. Not only they were kicked out of the hotel her husbands boss heard about this and he lost his job, so her little plan worked.
Talk about throwing your husband under the bus. Chester and his brother had misbehaved, and his mother made him sit out a gunpowder demonstration his brother Joseph Jr., were supposed to conduct during a school assembly.
His mother working alone not knowing what she was doing mixed the chemicals they exploded in his brother face. He was rushed to the nearest hospital, the hospital refused him treatment because he was black because of the Jim Crow laws. By the time his brother did get treatment he was blind this profoundly shape Chester Himes’s view of race relations in America for the rest of his life. That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together, Chester Himes wrote in his book The Quality of Hurt. His family later settled in Cleveland Ohio His parents, marriage was unhappy arguing all the time and eventually ended in divorce. Chester Himes attended East high School where he got low grades and he was uninterested in School, but he was very intelligent and very rebellious. Sound like a man from my own heart. After graduating high school Chester Himes attended Ohio State University in Columbus.
He found out fast that black people could go to the school but could not live on campus or participate in social events on campus. But blacks could play football, Basketball or baseball just as long as it’s helping the school something Chester was very angry about. Being the rebellious young black man Chester used to take other students to the speakeasy’s around town in the ghetto and as you know it, he got into trouble for doing so after someone snitched on him. While he was going to various gambling joints and speakeasy’s he fell in fast with this group of underworld figures and small-time criminals. Chester was expelled for playing a prank with a gun he was arrested and sentenced to jail and hard labor for 20 to 25 years for armed robbery. He was sent to Ohio Penitentiary while in prison after almost losing his life in a fire where 300 men died, he started writing short stories and he had them published in black newspapers and national magazines. He started getting respect from guards and fellow inmates as well as to avoid violence. One his first stories appeared in 1931 in the Bronzeman and in 1934 in Esquire magazine called “To What Red Hell” and his novel Cast the first Stone, and Yesterday Will Make You Cry.
These stories helped him get parole early and he was released in 1936. After getting out Chester got married to Jean Johnson and he worked at part-time jobs while he continuing to write. Sound like somebody I know with every piece of jobs I had still holding on to my dream of writing a novel with no money to publish a book. In the 1940’s he when to Los Angeles to work as a screenwriter and while working a bunch of hard laboring jobs he wrote two novels. If you Hollers Let Him Go and The Lonely Crusade. Chester Himes brief career as a screenwriter for Warner Brother he was terminated when Jack L. Warner heard about Chester being on the lot writing stories, He said: I don’t want no niggers on this lot.
Hollywood of the 1940’s and 50’s was very racist if you ask me, I still think it still very racist today in 2020 in my opinion look at the movies being made. After so much rejection and frustration of his novels not selling and the white critics attacking him in the media and dismissing his literary career plus his wife Jean left him, she no longer believed in him anymore as they were living from hand to mouth. Chester Himes believed in his work and his writing abilities knowing if he can’t do anything else, he knew he could write. By the 1950’s Chester Himes took a page from James Baldwin and Richard Wright that he was going to leave the United States and move to France and he did he jumped on the first thing smoking. This was the right move for Chester Himes because this is where he flourished as a writer in Paris after getting a suggestion from a fellow writer friend. He didn’t want to do it but after he seen the large advance, he started working on his Harlem Detective novels. A Rage in Harlem, my favorite book from the book is ten times better than the movie. The Real Cool Killers, The Crazy Kill, All Shot Up, The Big Gold Dreams, The Heat’s On, Cotton Comes to Harlem I love the book and the movie is really funny as well and Blind Man with a Pistol and Come back Charleston Blue, The movie that was made in the 1972 was really good too. All written between 1957- 1969. During this time Chester Himes won all kinds of awards like the Grand Prix de for his writing and the French critics loved his work making him famous in France and then around the world saying his books were the best detective novels of its time.
If you never read and of these books, I suggest you go on Amazon and get one you will not be disappointed trust me there all off the hook. The good thing Chester Himes did get some of his fame later on in life with his books.
Chester Himes died on November 12, 1984 at the age of 75 in Moraia, Spain. But it reminds me of some many Black writers who don’t get any credit for there great works while there alive or when their dead like some many writers I know. Black literary life is really hard for any black writers no matter who they are.
I heard Walter Mosley another one of my writing hero’s say in an interview it’s so hard to get people to read the books and I can really feel him on that one.
Chester Himes is one the great black writers of the 20th Century it’s a shame not too many people know about him and he had to leave the country for him to get any respect for his talent and great literary works.
Well it’s your boy Dartanya A. Williams Sr. the underground novelist super star I spit hot books not 16 bars dropping another hot ass blog on you once again. You better tell your mama and a friend! If you like what I just dropped on your dome with out a I phone you can hit me up on any of the social media doodads. Facebook author Page: Dartanya A. Williams Sr. Twitter @DartanyaSr. And on Instagram @DartanyaSr. Come check out my banging ass website Dartanyaawilliamssr.com. And don’t forget to go get my hot ass street classic Almasi aka Glock Mommy once you start reading it you won’t want to put it down for real. I’m hard at work to bring you Almasi two Queen of the streets the sequel to Street banger. 2020 let’s go get this money!