10 mai 2015
ENG - From 'Cast the First Stone' to 'Yesterday Will Make You Cry'
The story of this beautiful novel, first published in 1953 under the title Cast the First Stone, is interesting for several reasons. First, his main character, Jimmy Monroe, is white though there are a good number of autobiographical elements in the novel: the accident that caused his brother to become blind, life in prison, love between convicts, and the fire in the penitentiary. It is to be reminded hat Himes was sentenced in 1928 to 20 years in the State Penitentiary of Ohio for armed burglary following several other crimes. After the dreadful fire in the pen, which caused more than 300 victims, his case was re-opened and his sentence reduced. He got out in 1936. His first short stories written in prison and published in magazines for white readers (Esquire, Coronet) do not give any clue as to the author’s colour. In the USA, during and after WW2 fought against racism in Europe, one had to choose between being black and an author. Or, in a subtler way, there were enough black authors with Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.
After several publishers refused Himes’ manuscript. Coward Mc Cann accepted to publish it (1953), but substantial changes were imposed to Himes who agreed upon them for financial reasons.
40 years later, the book was finally published such as Himes had written it under the title Yesterday Will Make You Cry (Old School Books). The editor of the novel writes: “ This totally neglected novel has been largely out of print in the United States since its first release in 1953. What should be regarded as a disgrace may also in fact be a happy circumstance – for stored away on libraries shelves was the best thing that could happen to Cast the First Stone.” He also gives details about the “restoration” work that was done: ” It is a totally different book, much of which had simply been thrown away by Himes’s editors at Coward Mc Cann. They upset the whole structure of the book and reordered the chapters, even rewriting certain passages.” The effect of these cuts was to lessen the humanity and the sensibility of Jimmy Monroe, the main character. They thus reduced Cast the Fist Stone to a violent prison novel though Himes’ project was much wider.