Writer’s Desk: Do Your Thing

The great Chester Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri in 1909 and died in Spain in 1984. In between he went to prison for armed robbery, worked for the WPA, lived as an expatriate writer in Paris, and published some of the century’s best American crime fiction (Cotton Comes to Harlem, in particular).

Since his metier was hard to classify, ranging from black crime fiction to memoir and beyond, Himes’ work has been subject to less critical scrutiny than other posthumously praised writers. One of the few critics to turn their eye to Himes was Stephen F. Milliken, who noted that Himes didn’t need much help, and didn’t want it:

Chester Himes has always been above all else a man who does not take advice. His work is totally innocent of the smooth, professional polish of the writer who has been told … that you simply cannot do everything at once … His work is ferociously idiosyncratic.

When in doubt, be like Himes. Listen to your voice. Follow advice if it helps you get there. But if not, go your own way.

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