Chester Himes and John Alfred Williams met in 1961 and soon began a long and occasionally tempestuous correspondence about their personal lives and the difficulty of finding a fair reception as African American writers in the publishing world. By the late sixties, Himes had moved to Spain, where he wrote Williams frequently about the privations of life abroad. In the letters below, they discuss Himes’s beloved cat, Griot. These excerpts come from Dear Chester, Dear John, a 2008 collection of the pair’s correspondence. Himes died in 1984; Williams passed away last summer, at eighty-nine.
C/ Duque de Zaragoza, 2
10 February 1969
Sometime when you and Lori, or either one of you, are in a supermarket, will you look at the label of a cat food called Treat and take down the name and address of the manufacturing company for me. When we were in New York year before last we found a cat food of a mixture of fish and liver made by Treat that our cat would eat—which is the only cat food I have ever known him to eat. When we are in France we feed him on canned colin that has the trade name of Pom Pom Rouge, which costs about thirty-five cents a can, and usually we take along about fifty cans when we go to other countries. Our cat has always been very difficult about his food; rather than eat anything he doesn’t like he will starve himself to death. He will eat most beef liver, and he ate some fresh fish we found in Amsterdam, but he doesn’t care for this soft Spanish liver, and he won’t eat any of the fish. So if I get the address of the manufacturers of Treat I am going to order him a case or two … Anyway, if you remember about this Treat sometime, I will appreciate its address.
March 19, 1969
We held off writing, looking for your cat food company, which neither of us is able to do, unfortunately. Things here are as messy as ever. My mother’s back in the hospital with her second coronary in just one and a half years; my oldest boy has his ass on his shoulder because I told him he wasn’t shaping up worth a damn, even though he just turned twenty-one, and I’m getting sick and tired of having to work so hard for a living. That’s the way I feel today.
24 March 1969
Thanks for your letter. I’m sorry that you are having so much trouble with your mother and your son, but at least your son has a great chance to straighten up, if for no more reason than his youth. It becomes difficult to overcome trouble as one grows older. It’s the same with our cat. If he doesn’t learn to eat what he’s got he’s going to die … Have Connie and Ed really left for Mexico? If not I’d like to ask you to telephone Connie and have her find out the name and address of the manufacturer of Treat cat food, which is sold in the supermarket across the street from the Albert. I would’ve written her direct, but Connie and I have not been on the best of terms …
March 30, 1969
You’ll be pleased to know that Lori persevered, even if I didn’t, and dug up Tabby Treat, Usen Products Company, Woburn, Massachusetts 01901. And I hope this information saves that cat.