Chester Himes. A Case of Rape
Targ Editions No. 7
“The only friend I had in all the publishing world was my editor, William Targ." - Chester Himes
Like much of Chester Himes’s life, his relationship with William and Roslyn Targ was complicated and, at times, charged. As his agent, Roslyn helped him battle fraudulent publishing practices to get paid. As his editor, William Targ brought Himes’s work to a wider audience despite grave concerns about its reception. Inscriptions and correspondence between the three reveal a tenderness and intimacy the Targs shared with many writers.
Chester Bomar Himes was born 1909 in Jefferson City, Missouri. His father was a college professor, and his mother a teacher. In his youth, he experienced racist refusals of medical treatment for his and his brother’s separate injuries. He attended and was expelled from Ohio University. Arrested at age 19 for armed robbery, he served seven years of a 25-year sentence in the Ohio State Penitentiary. While in prison, he published, first in Abbott's Weekly and Illustrated News, later in Esquire.
Upon release, Himes wrote for various publications and the Ohio Writers’ Project. He went to California, where he worked in shipyards, wrote, and looked for a publisher. If He Hollers, Let Him Go was published in 1945, followed by Lonely Crusade in 1947.
In 1952, Himes moved to France, “at war with the American culture he called, ‘the prison of my mind,’” writes A. Robert Lee. In a 1954 letter to William Targ, Himes wrote,
“I realize that I am saying things on paper that should never be written, but I have the feeling that I am reentering a nightmare that I had hoped was over with forever.”
The Primitive, which Himes believed to be among his best works, came out in 1955, in spite of Targ’s vocal apprehension. A Case of Rape was first published as Une Affaire de Viol in France in 1963. It was reissued in France in 1979 and published in New York by Targ Editions in 1980.
Structured like a court proceeding, A Case of Rape traces the false conviction of four Black American expatriates to life imprisonment for the rape and murder of a white American woman. William Turner writes that it, "debunks the perceived cosmopolitanism of Black Paris” and “dramatizes Himes’s own ‘awakening’ to the hegemony of racial literary and identity categories.”
Himes knew commercial success with his 1960s detective novels as he resisted editors who “liked Negro clowns, musicians, horn players, dancers, etc. No other," words from correspondence with Roslyn Targ.
As Lee quotes from Himes’s autobiography:
“No matter what I did, or where I was, or how I lived, I had considered myself a writer ever since I’d published my first story in Esquire when I was still in prison in 1934. Foremost a writer. Above all else a writer. It was my salvation, and is.”
Chester Himes died in Spain in 1984.