Chester Himes papers
Scope and Contents
The Chester Himes Papers consists of original manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and artwork that document his long career as a writer. The manuscripts offer insight into Himes's creative process and many of them also represent the original versions and original titles for works which were later altered for publication. The bulk of the correspondence reveals Himes's relationship with the publishers and editors of his books and also offers a glimpse into the author's thoughts on his own work. The photographs and artwork document Himes's life with his family, friends and colleagues.
- Creation: 1936-1980
Language of Materials
Chiefly in English, some materials in Spanish and French.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
The Chester Himes Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.
Chester B. Himes (1909-1984)
Chester Bomar Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri on July 29, 1909 to Estelle Bomar Himes and Joseph Sandy Himes. He had two brothers, Edward and Joseph. Throughout his adolescent years Himes lived in Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio, mainly because his father, Joseph, was a teacher who worked in these locations. Himes graduated from East High School in Cleveland, Ohio in 1926 and spent the early part of his adult life in Cleveland and Columbus, where he enrolled at Ohio State University to study medicine. He was expelled from Ohio State University in 1928 and shortly afterward was arrested, convicted for armed robbery, and sentenced, at the age of nineteen, to a twenty-five year term in prison. Himes served only part of that sentence, from 1928 to1936, at the Ohio State Penetentiary in Columbus, during which time he became a published and somewhat well-known writer. Evidently inspired to begin writing by a 1930 prison fire in which 300 inmates were killed, while in prison he published a number of articles and short stories in newspapers and magazines, most notably in Esquire.
Released from prison in 1936, he married Jean Lucinda Johnson in 1937. From 1938 to 1941 he worked for the Cleveland Daily News and the Ohio Writers' Project, for which he wrote a history of Cleveland for the WPA Guide Series. Himes moved to California in 1941 and continued writing and working at shipyards until 1944, all the while trying with little success to secure a publisher for his novel Black Sheep (later published, in 1952, as Cast the First Stone). With the help of a Rosenwald Fellowship he was able to complete his first book, If He Hollers Let Him Go, which was published in 1945. His second book, Lonely Crusade, was published in 1947. Himes moved to Paris around 1953, and in 1955 published The Primitive. The first book of his now famous hard-boiled detective fiction series, For Love of Imabelle, which features two African American detectives from Harlem, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, was released in 1957. Himes spent the rest of his days living and writing in Europe, including stints in France, Germany and England, but primarily in Moraira on the southern coast of Spain with his second wife, Lesley Packard Himes. He published many other works including his two volume autobiography, The Quality of Hurt (1973) and My Life of Absurdity (1976). He died in Moraira, Spain on November 12, 1984.
9.83 Linear Feet (28 boxes)
The Chester Himes Papers consist of original manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and artwork that document his long career as a writer. The manuscripts offer insight into Himes's creative process and many of them also represent the original versions and original titles for works that were later altered for publication. The bulk of the correspondence reveals Himes's relationship with the publishers and editors of his books and also offers a glimpse into the author's thoughts on his own work. The photographs and artwork document Himes's life with his family, friends and colleagues.
Organized into five series: I. Writings, 1936-1976. II. Correspondence, 1947-1980. III. Printed Material, 1947-1964. IV. Photographs and Artwork, 1953-1967. V. Estelle B. Himes Writings, undated.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of the author, 1953-1976. Gift of the author through Carl Van Vechten, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Doubleday and Book of the Month Club, 1952-1972. Gift of Lesley Himes, 1986.
All descriptive information for writings in Series I. and Series V. was transcribed from pre-existing catalog cards.
Material in this collection formerly used the call numbers Uncat JWJ MS 12; JWJ MSS Himes; and ZAN 5 +2 V.5, V.6.
This collection was processed as part of the Beinecke Library Summer Internship Program in 2008.
- Guide to the Chester B. Himes Papers JWJ MSS 42
- by Bergis Jules and Ellen Doon
- July 2008
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.