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Coffin & Gravedigger series

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If He Hollers Let Him Go 1945

Lonely Crusade  1947

Cast the First Stone 1999 (orig. Yesterday Will Make You Cry 1952)

The Third Generation  1954

The End of a Primitive   1955

Collected Stories  1933-77


Pinktoes  1961

The Quality of Hurt :
The Autobiography of Chester Himes, The Early Years. 1972

Black on Black   1973

My Life As Absurdity :
The Autobiography of Chester Himes, Volume Two  1976

planB  1983

A Case for Rape  1985 = Une Affair de viol  1963

Newly released

If He Hollers Let Him Go  1945

This is Himes' first book and was written while he was prison.

The protagonist is Bob Jones, an articulate (two years of college) black leaderman at the shipyard. He desparately wants to simply get along and be left alone. As the novel opens, Bob is dreaming of a dog on a wire leash. He rolls on a side and dreams of interrogation for the death of a white man at a factory. He rols on his back and dreams of asking two white men for a job - they laugh at him because he doesn't have the tools.

Alas Jones awakens to find himself in an even greater nightmare.He left Cleveland thinking L.A. would be different, a place where he could put his racial self-consciousness out of mind. But he sees Japanese children singing "God Bless America" being lead to internment camps. He realized the whites he saw were filled with crazy unleashed hatred for those they deemed to bomb Pearl Harbor. It is Monday morning and Jones is late for work and the enemy (the white man) is just ready to strike out at him for Pearl Harbor.
Bob Jones is demoted, has a white co-worker gunning for him, his girl friend may be a lesbian, is humiliated by the police, etc. ...

Lonely Crusade  1947



Lee Gordon, the protagonist, is a well-educated middle-class intellectual hired to organize the 3000 black men and women part of the 30,000 war workforce at Comstock Aircraft Corp., but this crusader discovers he knows nothing about blacks. He is alienated from his wife, Ruth, with a relationship defined by his enactment of the subjugation placed upon him by the outside world. The Party assign a white woman to compromise Gordon sexually.
Thus, ostensibly a novel of protest, Lonely Crusade is really about American culture's obsession with dominance and power.

Cast the First Stone  1999 (orig. = Yesterday Will Make You Cry   1954)

Says Himes, in a 1952 letter to Richard Wright, "This book is a simple story about life in prison; maybe the boys can stand the truth about life in a state prison better than they can stand the truth about life in the prison of being a Negro in America." Protagonist James Monroe is a 19 year old prisoner sentenced 25 years for armed robbery. The prison world consists of convoluted versions of forms -sexual, racial, social, political, economic- found in the outside culture.

The publishers changed much of the script of "Yesterday...) published and republished as Cast the First Stone.

I am told that the soon to be re-released issue of "Yesterday Will Make You Cry" will be the first time Himes's original prison novel had been published.

The Third Generation  1954

Charles, the son of Professor Taylor, is 3 when the novel opens. His 2 brothers and parents live in a house rented by the president of the university where the father teaches. Charles is favored by his near-white mother. The mother's hatred of segregation and prejudice against the darker skinned, like her husband, soon gets the family in severe trouble in Mississippi., then in Arkansas, and in Cleveland, with her husband's family upon whom they depend. It is truy a tale of despair by cumulative incident.

The End of a Primitive  1955
A sexually frustrated white woman, Kriss Cummings, and a racially-frustrated black American male, Jesse Robinson, are thrown together for a weekend in a New York prohesized by TV's Today Show monkey J.. Fred Muggs.. The novel takes place in six days in 1952, early alternating between succesful professional Kriss' middle-class Gramercy Park apartment and writer Jesse's dingy Harlem tenement. In the beginning beautiful blond Kriss must content with lesbian Dot at work, while Jesse contends with gay Leroy and Leroy's ludicrously gay dog Napolean.
Himes tries to say that the many mid-20th century whites regarding the American Black, burdened with all the vices, sophistories, and shams of their white slavers, as primitives with greater morality than themselves, were themselves idiots. This book was considered too riské for a 1950's U.S. and its original was sliced considerably. 1990 versions are unabridged.


Collected Stories 1933-77
Racism, poverty and bad luck are the main players in this volume of 60 stories; when a character gets a hold of $10, it's likely to end in disaster and a $20 debt. Himes, who died in 1984, reveals the underbelly of the african american experience in the years between 1933 and 1979 when he wrote these stories.

In the space of two bleak pages, a black man has his feet burned by a white mob, then amputated by a doctor; when the amputee doesn't rise for the National Anthem, he is struck by a white man.

'The Way of Flesh' tells of Slim, 'a tall, lean, slack-bodied Georgia Negro, up from Cincinnati for manslaughter' who has been granted a release to go to his mother's funeral. Himes's depiction of Slim's feelings as he returns home for the funeral is an amazingly accurate one of a segment of black life, and he captures it magnificently in black dialect.

'With Malice Toward None,' written in 1939, shows Himes at his best--sketching a true-to-life character rather than a type or stereotype. This story deals with a black man with a WPA job who is not able to take care of his wife on the salary he receives. Thus he is full of rage: against her, against himself, against the 'system.'

In ``Pork Chop Paradise'' an ex-con preacher achieves an apotheosis in the eyes of his flock when he appears to ``turn de cobblestones tuh po'k chops.'' It is, not incidentally, a woman who brings him down.

In 'To What Red Hell,' as in Himes's other portraits of prison life, race is often--although not always--subordinate to mood, setting, and character.

A terse, two-page tale, 'All He Needs Is Feet,' sums up Himes's mood. . . . This is vintage Himes, the chronicler of a universe where the threat of mindless violence and absurd entrapments lurks just beneath the surface.