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Posts Tagged ‘Chester Himes’

The Moral Foulness of the Age, and Other News

June 1, 2015 | by

An_obese_gouty_man_drinking_punch_with_two_companions._Colou_Wellcome_V0010858

A 1799 cartoon by Gillray: an obese, gouty man drinking punch with two companions.

  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, writes with Bernard Haykel on jihadi poetry: “Analysts have generally ignored these texts, as if poetry were a colorful but ultimately distracting by-product of jihad. But … it is impossible to understand jihadism—its objectives, its appeal for new recruits, and its durability—without examining its culture. This culture finds expression in a number of forms, including anthems and documentary videos, but poetry is its heart. And, unlike the videos of beheadings and burnings, which are made primarily for foreign consumption, poetry provides a window onto the movement talking to itself. It is in verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad.”
  • And Garth Greenwell—whose story “Gospodar” appeared in our Summer 2014 issue—on Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life as the definitive gay novel of our times: “Just as Yanagihara’s characters challenge conventional categories of gay identity, so A Little Life avoids the familiar narratives of gay fiction. Yanagihara approaches the collective traumas that have so deeply shaped modern gay identity—sickness and discrimination—obliquely, avoiding the conventions of the coming-out narrative or the AIDS novel … But queer suffering is at the heart of A Little Life.”
  • Writing on the Internet is full of hostility, melodrama, and blind ego-mongering, but there’s an easy way to fix that: by adopting the voice of a Jane Austen character. “You can make your contribution to a better, more Austenesque world in every email, letter, tweet, update, blog post that you write.”
  • Copulation, excretion, fungus growing from a dunghill: you’ll find all these and more in the work of the eighteenth-century caricaturist James Gillray, whose work was so prickly that “a history of caricature published in 1904 suggested his pictures came from an unclean and unbalanced mind and symbolized ‘the moral foulness of the age.’ ”
  • In 1945, before Chester Himes found fame for his detective novels, he published If He Hollers Let Him Go, which in its “sheer dark rage” is an exemplar of a genre that hadn’t really been invented yet: “Even by the conventions of noir literature, it is Himes’s debut novel that was, inadvertently, truest to the form.”

Work Frustrations; Social Climbing

November 11, 2011 | by

Okay, I have a question about the ideal sort of job for a young writer. If not ideal, then certainly better. I am a gallery manager in Manhattan. It is an exhausting, constantly detail-oriented job that does not pay especially well. Work frustrations and a first novel that is still in progress but progressing despite the less than ideal amount of time I can devote. I am wondering whether I should quit this “career” and become a bartender. I would have more hours to write, and my hands wouldn’t be typing for eleven to twelve hours a day. So what jobs do you recommend?

You mention bartending. I’ve known several writer-bartenders over the years. The job, they tell me, comes with perils of its own. In the good old days, the easiest thing was to get a gig proofreading at night for some giant consultancy or law firm (like the title character of Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica). The pay was good, and when you punched out, you punched out. Those jobs are hard to find now (proofreading’s the first thing to go), but since you’re in New York, it’s worth signing up with a temp agency. I temped once, for a business-to-business advertising firm, and on my very first afternoon found myself writing slogans for a revolutionary new water-efficient toilet. At least, I tried. (It was also my last afternoon.)

I have always thought dog walking would be a good job for a writer, if you’re the sort of person who thinks while you walk. But perhaps one of our readers will have a better suggestion ... or a position to fill?

I’m enjoying The Way of All Flesh. Can you suggest some novels about social climbing by cultural or racial outsiders?

If Ernest Pontifex counts as a cultural outsider—or a social climber—then who among us is safe from either charge? Not Becky Sharpe, in Vanity Fair, or Lucien de Rubempré, in Lost Illusions. And certainly not Georges Duroy, the gutter-bred antihero of Bel Ami, or David Copperfield or Gatsby or Tim Ripley or—to choose a more recent example—slick Nick Guest in The Line of Beauty. But neither, I suppose, is Lucy, the title character of Jamaica Kincaid’s first novel, an Antiguan making her way in New York, or Pronek, the immigrant hero of Aleksandar Hemon’s Nowhere Man, lost in Chicago. After all, if you’re not from around here, there is a fine line between climbing and getting by. (Is Ellison’s Invisible Man a climber?) Leonard Bast tries to better himself, disastrously enough, in Howard’s End, and who can blame him? Creepy Jasper Milvain does a much better job in New Grub Street. The black shipbuilder Bob Jones doesn’t climb, exactly—but he gets promoted, and all hell breaks loose among his white coworkers, whom he secretly loathes—in Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go. There is always, of course, Augie March, taking goyish America by storm. And—my own favorite—the reckless, charming Irish hero of Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux, cutting a swathe through Disraeli-era London. Speaking of outsiders who make it. Read More »

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Ishmael Reed on ‘Juice!’

September 13, 2011 | by

Ishmael Reed © Terence Byrnes.

Seventy-three-year-old Ishmael Reed has been a major figure in American letters for more than four decades. In April, Dalkey Archive published Juice!, Reed’s first novel in more than fifteen years. Juice! tells the story of a struggling African American cartoonist whose personal and professional life is disrupted by the media frenzy surrounding the O. J. Simpson murder trial. Earlier this summer, Reed, who is based in Oakland, California, responded to some of my questions about his latest work.

Juice! is your first novel since 1993. What inspired you to write another novel after all these years?

I began this one as soon as I heard about the murders. I was vacationing in Hawaii, and the murders ruined my vacation. The media went berserk over the murder of Nicole Simpson, the kind of ideal white woman—a Rhine maiden—one finds in Nazi art and propaganda, murdered allegedly by a black beast. It was a story that reached into the viscera of the American unconscious, recalling the old Confederate art of the black boogeyman as an incubus squatting on top of a sleeping, half-clad white woman. It was also an example of collective blame. All black men became O. J. The murders ignited a kind of hysteria.

Juice! does not have a conventional structure. The novel incorporates courtroom documents, television transcripts, and pieces of visual art. It also plays around quite a bit with time. What gave rise to the novel’s peculiar shape?

I try to experiment. Writing a conventional novel would be boring for me. In this novel, I added cartoons. Cartoons were probably my introduction to storytelling as a child, because on Sundays we got The Chattanooga Times, and I’d read the funnies. A publisher wanted to publish Juice! but decided that the cartoons weren’t up to par. So, at the age of seventy, I studied at the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco, and the cartoons improved so much that I now do political cartoons for The San Francisco Chronicle’s blog, City Brights.Read More »

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