BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – VALJEANNE JEFFERS

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?
As a young girl I wrote stories and poetry. But life got in the way, and I didn’t return to writing until I was in my forties. Discovering Octavia Butler was the catalyst for my taking the journey into writing fiction. For me, being a black writer means I have two responsibilies. I have to hold up a mirror to American society, to the world, to make folks think about the problems we’re facing, and offer solutions. I am the conscience of my nation. The second one is to write a story that grips my readers and holds on tight, one that gives them everything they want, and leaves them wanting more.
Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I write everyday, but I also work as a tutor/teacher. I have an MA in Psychology, which actually helps me with character development.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?
I’m fortunate enough to be able to set my own work hours, so I can take off if I need to attend a CON or meet a deadline.
What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?
I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. I actually wrote a nonfiction book, The Story of Eve, which was never published (except as articles). But Speculative fiction (horror, fantasy, and science fiction) is my favorite genre. We stand in the midst of a Black SF/Fantasy Renaissance: black and brown folks are making huge strides in film, art, and writing. As a black female writer I am part of this movement, and writing is, in of itself, a form of political resistance.
Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?
There are so many! I won’t try to list them all, but Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemison and Brandon Massey are huge influences, as well as: Tananarive Due, B. Sharise Moore, Quinton Veal, Balogun Ojetade, and Milton Davis.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
I listen to Blues, Jazz, R&B, Rock and everything in between. It just depends on what mood I’m in and what I’m writing. King Britt, for example, is my best inspiration when I’m creating a very visual and/or romantic scene.
How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?
It varies; anywhere from a year to two years. I took two years to finish Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child. But, I write stories while I’m working on novels, too.
What does your writing schedule look like and how many hours a day do you write?
I don’t have a set schedule, but when I’m writing (especially if I’m in the “zone”) I may go as long as six to eight hours.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes!
How many books have you written?
I have written ten books. This includes: The Story of Eve, my  Immortal and Mona: Livelong series (six books), Voyage of Dreams, Colony: Ascension: An Erotic Space Opera, and The Switch II: Clockwork (includes books I and II). I also co-edited, with Quinton Veal, Scierogenous: An Anthology of Erotic Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volumes I and II.
As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?
As I’ve said earlier, writing is a form of resistance. For black folks reading novels and stories in which they are heriones and heros is both uplifiting and empowering. As black writers, we are quintessential to this journey. No one can tell our stories the way we can. I’d like to share something I wrote several years ago, and it’s still relevant today. In the 21th century there are very still few characters like us, and out of this small pool many are post-modern “Step-and Fetchits” (stereotypes). This is why speculative fiction is so important. This genre helps us to see outside reality, to say: what if? It helps us to imagine and create spectacular, wondrous realms, step back and find the beauty and wisdom there, and then transform our own space. We need to dream, and we need our writers to help us to dream. Even if – especially if – these dreams are of fantastic, imaginary creatures and happenings. We need this because dreaming can be an escape. One should never underestimate the power of escape. Imagine a child living in squalor, and escaping into pages of a novel. Or a slave reading by lamplight and envisioning her freedom. Or a man working as a sharecropper, and at sunset telling his story with harmonica. We all need to escape, at least sometimes, into the worlds of those who dream like us, who understand us; who look like us. To paraphrase B.B. King, we need authors who get us where we live. Second of all dreaming helps us to change. If you can dream it, you can do it. You can move yourself and your corner of life forward.
Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?
I love my Immortal series, but then I also love my Mona Livelong series. I am passionate about both.
What type of research do you conduct and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Nonfiction research typically takes longer (for me) than fiction research. But both can take hours or even weeks. When I wrote my essay for Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler, I re-read Wild Seed, took notes, and watched interviews with Ms. Butler etc. It took me around a month to finish my research.
What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?
It varies. I use the same method I used to complete my MA, which is googling a resource, reading it and then using this resource to find other articles.
What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?
I have found devoted readers on facebook and twitter. But, for my community, going to SF/Fantasy Cons and  author signings works best.
How important is it that black creators work together to encourage, empower and educate the black community through their work?
Collaboration and sharing resources is very important for our community to help us grow.
What does literary success look like to you?
I’m very well known, and I am humbled and honored by this. But I would like expand my audience and reach even more people. Eventually, I’d like to become a full time writer.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
I dearly hope that my legacy will be that I am talented, humanistic author who cares about the black community and the globe, and one is who is not afraid address issues like homelessness, racism, sexism and climate change in her writing, but who can so in a beautifully written and exciting novel or story.
What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
 My co-editor Quinton Veal and I are working with Director Balogun Ojetade to bring my novel The Switch II: Clockwork to the screen, and possibly Scierogenous (as a series). I’m also releasing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child this year.
How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?
Readers can visit me: www.vjeffersandqveal.com http://tehotep.wixsite.com/scierogenous and http://tehotep.wixsite.com/immortaliiiaudiobook  

Author’s Biography

Valjeanne Jeffers is a speculative fiction writer, a graduate of Spelman College, and a member of the Horror Writers Association, and the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. She is the author of ten books, including her Immortal and her Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective series. Valjeanne has been published in numerous anthologies including: Steamfunk!;The Ringing Ear; Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler; Fitting In; Sycorax’s Daughters; Black Magic Women, The Bright Empire, and Blerdrotica (in press).Readers can also preview or purchase her novels at: www.vjeffersandqveal.com.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – SIDNEY HOLMES

How long have you been producing artwork professionally?
I’ve been creating art pieces ever since 2012.I joined this on-line group called, http://www.fineartamerica.com.
At what point in your life did you discover that you were destined to be an artist and how has your artwork resonated within the black community?
The year of 1995, senior year of High School I met a professor by the Name of John Wade who taught me to enhance my ability, once I grasped what he was saying it just became second nature. I taught myself how to spectrum and Color Theory est.
Do you create full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I create part-Time because I work two full-time jobs but on my off days, I dedicate that time to my work. I’m a Certified Med Aid.
What medium(s) do you create with and is there a favorite?
Mediums, that I don’t have, but I would like to consider myself as Universal. I like challenges. Whether it is oils, Acrylics pencils or Watercolors I like to adapt.
What style(s) does your art take and what black cultural aesthetics do you incorporate?
Some People say that my style is different and Unique, for the most part I stand out on my own. I like all Cultures, not just African art.
Who are some of your biggest artistic influences?
My favorite Artists is Leonardo da Vinci, he helped shape the art world and saw it for what it was.
What inspires you to create and how important is it that your work encourage, empower and educate the black community?
I look at People, shapes and things I just picture what if? So I become curious and start to sketch and paint.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an artist and do you feel it is your responsibility to use your gifts and talents to inspire the black community and the world?
The end result of the Piece itself when it’s finished. Makes me feel good about my accomplishment.
Do you have a particular piece or pieces which stand out as your favorite(s)?
My favorites are Brazil, The Franchise Confrontation I have others just to name a few. Blues Man.
What does your creative schedule look like and how many hours a day do you create?
My schedule for painting is busy. I paint on my off days. How long it takes to finish a piece depends on the Size and how I am into the Piece.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your artistic career?
My Schedule is pretty busy for the most part I keep Calendar updates on the wall and iPhone.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
Music helps enhance my creativity smooth jazz preferably, takes to another dimension.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
The most Difficult is keeping my Brushes clean because I have so many that I forget to clean them.
How many pieces have you created and how long does it usually take you to complete work on a piece/project?
So far, I’ve created over 250 Pieces I know the number isn’t much but it’s still growing.
What does artistic success look like to you?
The art industry tends to fluctuate back and forth but over the years I’ve been successful in my accomplishments. But the key is to keep painting and selling yourself.
How important is it that black creators work together to encourage, empower and educate the black community through their work?
We as blacks must learn that we must set an example for others and making it our priority.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
That I was self-taught and that I wanted to improve the quality of Life, help create new ideas.
What upcoming projects are you working on, which you can share with the readers?
I met this female guitarist ‘(Jackie Venson)” and some abstract work
Is your work exhibited in an art gallery? If so, where can the readers find it?
I haven’t presented my work in any Galleries yet because I’m working on a website
Where can the readers continue to follow your career? Do you have a website or blog?
http://www.fineartamerica.com look for Sidney Holmes or google.

BLACK HISTORY SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: MAURICE BROADDUS

Maurice Broaddus is an afrofuturist author, whose work includes: Pimp My Airship, Buffalo Soldier & The Usual Suspects.

Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?

Maurice: Both. I full-time write AND have two other full-time jobs. I have a B.S. in Biology.

How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?

Maurice: Well, to be fair, this is a process that has taken a lot of time to evolve. A learn as we went thing, since at one point the imbalance almost cost me family. Don’t get me wrong, my wife knew that I was a writer from the beginning (this was pretty clear while we were dating when I’d put off or cancel dates because I was on (self-imposed at the time) deadline). Also complicating matters was that I have bipolar disorder with hypomania, which went undiagnosed for the first decade of our marriage. It’s the hypomania that was the big problem as I would pile up huge amounts of work and then spend my life moving at a thousand miles an hour wrapping up everything to hit my deadlines. And I always hit my deadlines. In the beginning, I’d try to bring my wife (who isn’t a reader) into the process by reading my work out loud to her (she enjoyed being read to). However, this proved a short lived experiment as I tended to draw a lot from real life to a point where it made her uncomfortable. Ironically, she recently went through a writing workshop with me and wrote a poignant piece that drew incredibly on her real life, so she gets that piece of it now. Also, we had kids pretty early into our marriage. I believed two things: I wasn’t going to get as much work as I would have liked done and kids wouldn’t understand the closed door of “daddy’s working”. The reality was that I produced more words than I ever had before, just in shorter chunks as I was blogging up to six times a day (thousand plus word pieces typically). And the kids amused each other all I had to do was be in the room. If my wife was home and I was sequestered away writing, I had an open-door policy where anyone could interrupt to chat with me. These strategies were okay, but far from perfect. There came a tipping point where I had to either change how I did things or lose everything. So I reprioritized my life around my family rather than the writing. Ironically, I ended up producing more this way. My family got the “best” slice of my time rather than my leftovers. My writing schedule was shaped around them and their hours. So I wrote either before they got up or after they went to bed or while I was at work (more on this later). On weekends, my wife would take the boys on “adventures” so that I could have Saturday afternoons to write. [Also, real money started coming in for my efforts. This alleviated much of the tension.] This strategy I call “Bring Them on Board.” Meaning, there was a family meeting where I wanted their input on how best to carve out my time with them to accommodate my writing. They came up with that schedule. This strategy has continued to evolve and broaden. My wife in a lot of ways has become my business manager. She tracks the money (who owes me what and how much) and I run potential jobs/events by her so she can ask the question “is what [I am] being paid worth the time spent away from family?” We use Google calendar as a diagnostic tool to measure the state of my hypomania (all my deadlines and meetings are calandered and color coordinated so when my schedule vomits the rainbow, we can see that I’m ramping up). She also helps me throw my writing convention, Mo*Con. As far as a day job goes, when I have one (and I currently do as a middle school teacher…ironically, this happened because the school so loved me as a sub when I was shadowing my kids through school) I do most of my writing there. It started when I worked for two and a half years in a sales job (my first 9-5 gig). My manager and I came to an agreement that I would use my breaks and lunch to write. So I’d plan my writing the night before then hit the ground running during those times. Basically, I learned to do writing “sprints.” It so changed my method and output, I’ve kept it up ever since. My oldest son sometimes “agents” me, negotiating my appearance fees since it involves them taking me away from him. My youngest often claims that he’s giving me space to write, which is usually code for “I’ll be playing video games.” But I would go to their schools to do talks or run workshops/residencies or substitute teach to spend more time together. I would work them into projects (my middle grade detective novel series is basically a chronicle of my kids’ antics in school). I recently worked my youngest’s videogame playing into a story as we played games together and called it “research.” And, when possible, the family goes to cons with me (me and the boys did a “guys road trip” to one of my speaking engagements and my wife went on a cruise with me where I was teaching. Again, nothing like her enjoying cruise life to relieve tensions and for her to encourage me to write more so we can do that again).

Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?

Maurice: Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley

Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?

Maurice: These days, jazz. Bitches Brew (Miles Davis) is getting me through my space opera.

How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?

Maurice: 6 months

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Maurice: I write longhand.

How many books have you written?

Maurice: Twenty. Have 12 published.

What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?

Maurice: People. My neighbors in community mostly.

What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?

Maurice: Working in the community

What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?

Maurice: A play for the Indiana Repertory Theater, work for Dungeon & Dragons, a Black Panther short story. Unfadeable, my second middle grade book. Sweep of Stars, book one of my Afrofuturist space trilogy.

Thank you Maurice, for your time. How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?

www.mauricebroaddus.com

SPOTLIGHT ON AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTHOR DONALD GOINES

DONALD GOINESAfrican American author, Donald Goines was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 15, 1936. He came from a middle-class background, where his parents ran a laundry business. According to stories told to him by his mother—Myrtle Goines—the family was descended from a sexual encounter between Jefferson Davis and a slave. At age 15, Goines lied about his age in order to join the Air Force, where he fought in the Korean War. During his service, Goines developed a heroin addiction which he continued after his being honorably discharged from the military during the mid-1950’s. In order to support his addiction Goines committed multiple crimes, including pimping and theft, and was sent to prison several times. While serving time in Michigan’s Jackson Penitentiary, he began writing. He initially attempted to write westerns, but decided to write urban fiction after reading Iceberg Slim’s autobiography “Pimp: The Story of My Life”.

Goines continued to write novels at a fast-tracked pace to support his drug addictions, with some books taking only a month to complete. His sister Joan Goines Coney later stated that Goines wrote at such an accelerated pace in order to avoid committing more crimes and based many of the characters in his books on people he knew in real life.
In 1974 Goines published Crime Partners, the first book in the Kenyatta series under the pseudonym, “Al C. Clark”. Holloway House’s chief executive Bentley Morriss requested that Goines publish the book under a pseudonym in order to avoid having the sales of Goines’ work suffer due to too many books releasing at once. The book dealt with an anti-hero character named after Jomo Kenyatta that ran a Black Panther-esque organization to clear the ghetto of crime. In his book The Low Road, Eddie B. Allen remarked that the series was a departure from some of Goines’ other works, with the character of Kenyatta symbolizing a sense of liberation for Goines.

“Inner City Hoodlum”, which Goines had finished before his death, was published posthumously in 1975. The story, set in Los Angeles, was about “smack”, money and murder.
On October 21, 1974 Goines and his common-law wife were discovered dead in their Detroit apartment. The police had received an anonymous phone call earlier that evening and responded, discovering Goines in the living room of the apartment and his common-law wife Shirley Sailor’s body in the kitchen. Both Goines and Sailor had sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and head. The identity of the killer or killers is unknown, as is the reason behind the murders. Popular theories involve Goines being murdered due to his basing several of his characters on real life criminals as well as the theory that Goines was killed due to his being in debt over drugs.
Goines was later buried with his mother placing several of his books in his coffin.

DOPEFIEND
PERSONAL NOTE:

The highest selling genre among African Americans is Urban Fiction or Urban Lit. As a fan of Goines’ work, he was the first author in this genre I read. His work(s) have helped to shape and influence many of today’s Urban Fiction authors. It is my shared opinion that Donald Goines’ is the quintessential “Father” of Urban Fiction/Urban Lit.

 

BIBLIIOGRAPHY

Kenyatta series
• Crime Partners (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
• Death List (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
• Kenyatta’s Escape (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
• Kenyatta’s Last Hit (1975) [as Al C. Clark]

STANDALONE NOVELS

Dopefiend (1971)
Whoreson (1972)
Black Gangster (1972)
Street Players (1973)
White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief (1973)
Black Girl Lost (1974)
Eldorado Red (1974)
Swamp Man (1974)
Never Die Alone (1974)
Cry Revenge (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
Daddy Cool (1974)
Inner City Hoodlum (1975)

MUSICAL INFLUENCES
Goines’ writing has had an impact upon several people, with several rappers inserting mentions of Goines and his writing into their lyrics. In his 1996 song “Tradin’ War Stories”, rapper 2Pac writes “Machiavelli was my tutor, Donald Goines my father figure”. Ludacris mentions Goines in his 2006 song “Eyebrows Down”. AZ compares himself to Donald Goines’ work in “Rather Unique,” with the line, “Your mind’s boggled but I’m as deep as Donald Goines’ novels.” Nas also named the song “Black Girl Lost” on his sophomore album It Was Written after the book by Goines. Goines’ books are also utilized in several prison literacy programs and his novel “Dopefiend” has been taught in a Rutgers University class.

FILMS
Some of Goines’ works have been adapted into film. His book “Crime Partners” was turned into a 2001 film starring Ice-T, Snoop Dogg, and Ja Rule, and in 2004 his book “Never Die Alone” was also released as a film starring DMX.

GRAPHIC NOVEL
In 2006, a graphic novel adaptation of the book “Daddy Cool” was released by Holloway House.

SPOTLIGHT ON AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTHOR CHESTER HIMES

CHESTER HIMESChester Bomar Himes was an African American writer born in Jefferson City, MS, on July 29, 1909. His parents were to Joseph Sandy Himes Sr. and Estelle Bomar Himes; his father was a peripatetic black college professor of industrial trades and his mother was a teacher at Scotia Seminary prior to marriage.

At age twelve, Himes’ father began teaching at Branch Normal College (now the University of Arkansas). He and his brother Joseph Jr., were made to sit out a gunpowder demonstration by their mother as punishment for bad behavior. The boys decided to conduct the experiment without adult supervision, which resulted in an explosion that blinded Joseph Jr. The aftermath of this tragedy had a profound effect on how Himes viewed race relations later in life. When Joseph Jr. was rushed to the nearest hospital, he was denied treatment due to his race.

“That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together,” Himes wrote in The Quality of Hurt:
“I loved my brother. I had never been separated from him and that moment was shocking, shattering, and terrifying….We pulled into the emergency entrance of a white people’s hospital. White clad doctors and attendants appeared. I remember sitting in the back seat with Joe watching the pantomime being enacted in the car’s bright lights. A white man was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief; I hoped it was for a pistol.”

A short time later, the family settled in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents’ marriage was an unhappy one which eventually ended in divorce.
Himes attended East High School while in Cleveland. Later, during his time as a freshman at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, he was expelled for playing a prank. He was arrested in 1928 for armed robbery and sent to Ohio Penitentiary. He was sentenced to hard labor for 20 to 25 years.
While in prison, Himes wrote a number of short stories, which were eventually published in national magazines. Later, he would state that his prison writings and publications were a means of earning respect from guards and fellow inmates. It also helped him to avoid personal violence.

Himes’ first stories appeared The Bronzeman magazine starting in 1931. His work later appeared in Esquire magazine in 1934. Of particular note was a story titled, “To What Red Hell”. His debut novel “Cast the First Stone”, dealt with the catastrophic 1930 prison fire Himes witnessed while serving time at Ohio Penitentiary. It was published almost ten years after it was written, most likely due to Himes’ unusually candid treatment—for that time period—of a homosexual relationship. Originally written in the third person, it was rewritten in the first person in a more “hard-boiled” style (which Himes would eventually become famous for) and posthumously republished unabridged in 1998 as “Yesterday Will Make You Cry”.

Himes was transferred to London Prison Farm that same year and in April 1936, was released on parole into his mother’s custody. He continued to write following his prison release, while working part-time jobs. It was during this period that he came into contact with author, Langston Hughes. Hughes facilitated Himes’s contacts with the world of literature and publishing.

In 1936 Himes married Jean Johnson (who he later divorced), Four years later, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a screenwriter and also produced two novels, “If He Hollers Let Him Go” which contains many autobiographical elements — is about a black shipyard worker in Los Angeles during World War II struggling against racism, as well as his own violent reactions to racism. His next novel, “The Lonely Crusade” that charted the experiences of the wave of blacks who were part of the Great Migration. Himes’s novels encompassed many genres including the crime novel/mystery and political polemics, exploring racism in the United States. His work centered on African Americans in general, especially in two books that are concerned with labor relations and African-American workplace issues. He also provided an analysis of the Zoot Suit Riots for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP.

Hines screenwriting career came to an abrupt halt Jack Warner of Warner Brothers heard about him and said, “I don’t want no niggers on this lot.”
Himes later wrote in his autobiography:
“Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South, I had fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college, I had served seven and one half years in prison, I had survived the humiliating last five years of Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate.”

By the 1950s Himes had decided to leave the United States and settled permanently in France. Himes like the country in part due to his popularity in literary circles. While in Paris, Himes’ was the contemporary of the political cartoonist Oliver Harrington and fellow expatriate writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and William Gardner Smith.

Himes was most famous for a series of Harlem Detective novels featuring Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, New York City police detectives in Harlem. The novels feature a mordant emotional timbre and a fatalistic approach to street situations. Funeral homes are often part of the story, and funeral director, H. Exodus Clay is a recurring character in these books.
The titles of the series include “A Rage in Harlem, The Real Cool Killers, The Crazy Kill, All Shot Up, The Big Gold Dream, The Heat’s On, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and Blind Man With A Pistol”; all written between 1957-1969.

COTTON COMES TO HARLEM“Cotton Comes to Harlem”, was made into a movie in 1970, which was set in that time period, rather than the earlier period of the original book. A sequel, “Come Back, Charleston Blue”, was released in 1972, and “For Love of Imabelle” was made into a film under the title “A Rage in Harlem”, in 1991.

It was in Paris in the late 1950s that Chester met his second wife Lesley Himes, née Packard, when she was assigned to interview him. She worked as a journalist for the Herald Tribune, where she wrote her own fashion column, “Monica”. He described Lesley as “Irish-English with blue-gray eyes and very good looking”. In her, he found someone who didn’t judge him for his race and he also admired her courage and resilience.

In 1958 he won France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and a year later, Himes suffered a stroke, which led to Lesley quitting her job so that she could nurse him back to health. She cared for him for the rest of his life, and worked with him as his informal editor and proofreader. After a long engagement, they were married in 1978.

Lesley and Chester faced adversities as a mixed race couple living in that time period however, they were resilient and prevailed. People close to the author recalled his life with Lesley as one filled with unparalleled passion and great humor. Their circle of political colleagues and creative friends included; Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, Carl Van Vechten, Pablo Picasso, Jean Miotte, Ollie Harrington, Nikki Giovanni and Ishmael Reed. Their Bohemian life in Paris eventually led them to the South of France and finally on to Spain, where they remained until Chester’s death in 1984.

Some within the publishing industry regard Chester Himes as the literary equal of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Ishmael Reed has said, “[Himes] taught me the difference between a black detective and Sherlock Holmes” and it would be more than 30 years until another Black mystery writer, Walter Mosley and his Easy Rawlins and Mouse series, had even a similar effect.

In 1996, his widow Lesley Himes went to New York to work with Ed Margolies on the first biographical treatment of Himes’s life, entitled The Several Lives of Chester Himes, by long-time Himes scholars Edward Margolies and Michel Fabre, published in 1997 by University Press of Mississippi. Later, novelist and Himes scholar James Sallis published a more deeply detailed biography of Himes called “Chester Himes: A Life (2000)”.

A detailed examination of Himes’s writing and writings about him can be found in “Chester Himes: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography” compiled by Michel Fabre, Robert E. Skinner, and Lester Sullivan (Greenwood Press, 1992).

Himes was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

In May 2011, Penguin Modern Classics in London republished five of Himes’ detective novels from the Harlem Cycle.

On a personal note:

Chester Himes, along with Walter Moseley and Robert B. Parker were HUGE influences on my writing in terms of both content and style. I owe these men a great debt and I honestly don’t think that I’d be a writer today, had I not experienced reading their work(s).

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

If He Hollers Let Him Go, (1945)
Lonely Crusade, (1947)
Cast the First Stone, (1952)
The Third Generation, (1954)
The End of a Primitive, (1955)
For Love of Imabelle, alternate titles The Five-Cornered Square, A Rage in Harlem, (1957)
The Real Cool Killers, (1959)
The Crazy Kill, (1959)

AUTOBIOGRAPHIES:

The Quality of Hurt (1973)
My Life of Absurdity (1976)

 

 

BLACK HISTORY MONTH BLOG POST SERIES:

     In the spirit of celebrating Black History Month, I’ve dedicated my weekly blog posts to celebrate the accomplishments of Black writers with a look into their work within the writing profession. I will be tasking myself with reading the work of one black author per week and reviewing their work as a blog post (Fridays). In addition, I will be writing a post exploring blacks in particular genres (Mondays). That’s a total of two blog posts per week! These posts are meant to be educational, insightful and inspiring. I know I sure learned a lot in doing the research for them!

     The first post in the series to be uploaded tomorrow, Monday, 4 February 2013, will focus on the history of Black writers in speculative fiction!

     ENJOY & REMEMBER TBIYTC (THE BEST IS YET TO COME)!!!

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