Chester Himes, 1909-1984

American novelist. Himes began writing while serving in Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery. His account of the terrible 1930 Penitentiary Fire that killed over three hundred men appeared in Esquire in 1932. From his first novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945), Himes dealt consistently with the social and psychological burdens of being black in a white society. The Third Generation (1954) is an ambitious fictionalized history of oppression from the time of slavery to the mid-20th century. Beginning in 1953, Himes lived as an expatriate in Spain and France, where he met and was strongly influenced by Richard Wright. It was in France that he began his best-known series of novels—including Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) and Run Man Run (1966)—featuring the two Harlem policemen Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. As with Himes’s earlier work, the series is characterized by violence and grisly, sardonic humor. The Quality of Hurt (1972) and My Life of Absurdity (1976) are autobiographies.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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