Chester Himes by James Sallis
A Life

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Chester Himes's novels and memoirs represent one of the most important bodies of work by any American writer, but he is best known for The Harlem Cycle, the crime stories featuring Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. His writing made him a major figure in Europe, but it is only recently that his talents have been acknowledged in the country that spurned him for most of his life, though his work is recognized as being on a par with that of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Jim Thompson.
In this major literary biography, acclaimed poet, critic, and novelist James Sallis explores Himes's life as no writer has attempted before. Combining the public facts with fresh interviews with the people who knew him best, including his second wife, Lesley, Sallis casts light onto the contradictions, self-interrogations, and misdirections that make Himes such an enigmatic and elusive subject. Chester Himes: A Life is a definitive study not only of the life of a major African-American man of letters, but of his writing and its relationship to the man himself, drawing a remarkable, deeply affecting portrait of a too often misunderstood and neglected writer. This is a work of high scholarship and of penetrating and passionate insight, a rare conjoining of two fine writers-and as much a work of literature as any of their novels.

About James Sallis

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James Sallis has published fourteen novels, multiple collections of short stories, poems and essays, the definitive biography of Chester Himes, three books of musicology, and a translation of Raymond Queneau's novel Saint Glinglin. The film of Drive won Best Director award at Cannes; the six Lew Griffin books are in development. Jim plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and Dobro both solo and with the band Three-Legged Dog.
Published February 6, 2012 by Walker Books. 350 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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The most trivial biographical details are sunk in a sea of cultural cross-references, such as when Sallis describes how Himes’s mother dressed young Chester in girl’s clothing—as did Rilke’s mother!

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The Guardian

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Chester Himes: A Life James Sallis 370pp, Payback Press £18.99 Buy it at BOL If Chester Himes hadn't existed, James Sallis might have had to invent him.

Oct 21 2000 | Read Full Review of Chester Himes: A Life

The Guardian

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Chester Himes James Sallis Payback Press £18.99, pp385 Buy it at BOL I was first introduced to Chester Himes aged around 12 or 13.

Nov 12 2000 | Read Full Review of Chester Himes: A Life

Publishers Weekly

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In the 1940s and '50s Himes found himself in a cycle of literary aspirations and disappointments, epitomized by Jack Warner's memorable dismissal: ""I don't want no niggers on this lot."" Sallis weaves such accounts in with his solid discussions of Himes's important early novels, tightly atmosphe...

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Reviewing the Evidence

If you have considered even reading Himes, I would say "try him" and to understand him, read this book.

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