Literary Birthday: Chester Himes

Raised in Missouri, Chester Himes (born today in 1909) began his writing career in an unlikely place. While attending Ohio State University, he started walking on the wild side. He was sent to prison for robbery at the age of 19. Buying a typewriter in part with his gambling winnings, he began writing stories from his jail cell that were published in the black press and Esquire, under the pen name 59623 (his prisoner number).

After moving to France, Himes began publishing the raucous Harlem-set noir novels that made him famous, particularly Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965). One day in Paris in 1953, Himes was at a café with Richard Wright and James Baldwin. The two rivals were sparring over petty literary slights, real and imagined. “I confess,” the street-wise Himes wrote in his autobiography, The Quality of Hurt (1972), “at this point they lost me.”

Writer’s Desk: Follow Your Own Advice

Writers do not lack for advice. They are, in fact, drowning in it. This very site adds another drop to that flood most weeks; hopefully not entirely in vain.

Yes, sage advice from working authors can be crucial to those of us struggling to get words (the right words) on a page each day that do not embarrass us and hopefully put something new and fresh and true out in the world.

But that will only get you so far. This is what Richard Wright (Native Son) knew.

In 1945, in a letter Wright wrote to the artist Antonio Frasconi, he said:

I hold that, on the last analysis, the artist must bow to the monitor of his imagination, must be led by the sovereignty of his own impressions and perceptions.

You will not get anywhere without listening to what you have to say.