Lewis Elliot Chaze devoted his career in journalism to exploring issues facing Mississippians and his energy as a novelist to imagining life experiences both inside and outside the American South. Born on 15 November 1915 in Mamou, Louisiana, Elliot was the son of Lewis Ernest and Sue Grigsby Chaze. He graduated from Bolton High School in Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1932 and attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, from 1932 to 1934 before transferring to Tulane University in 1935. The following year, Chaze went to Oklahoma University, graduating in 1937 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Chaze found his first job in journalism as a news editor with the Associated Press in New Orleans from 1941 to 1943. He served in US Army as a technical sergeant with the 11th Airborne Division during World War II, remaining in Japan while American troops occupied the country. Chaze returned to the United States in 1946 and became a news editor with the Associated Press in Denver. Five years later, he returned to the South to begin a job as a reporter at the Hattiesburg American. Chaze remained at the newspaper for the rest of his career, earning a promotion to city editor in 1970 before retiring in 1980.
Chaze penned nine novels and a book of essays, using his writings to explore journalism, the suspense genre, crime, and the American South. Chaze’s fiction pulled directly from his own diverse experiences. His first novel, The Stainless Steel Kimono (1947), tells the story of seven American paratroopers in Japan after the end of World War II. The Golden Tag (1950) narrates the life of a young journalist in New Orleans, while Black Wings Has My Angel (1953) depicts an armored car robbery in Colorado. A decade later, Chaze authored his fourth book, an essay collection, Two Roofs and a Snake on the Door (1963). During the height of Chaze’s career as reporter for the Hattiesburg American, he wrote two novels, Tiger in the Honeysuckle (1965) and Wettermark (1969), both of which chronicle the lives of young newspaper reporters in Mississippi. His last three novels, published after his retirement from the newspaper, continue to engage material from Chaze’s life. Goodbye Goliath (1983) portrayed the politics in a small Alabama newspaper office after the murder of a tyrannical general manager. Also in this period, Chaze published both Mr. Yesterday (1984) and Little David (1985). Chaze’s writings won several awards, including the Fawcett Gold Medal Paperback Award for Black Angel Has My Wings. Explaining his motivation for writing, Chaze once commented, “My motivation, if there is any discernible, is probably ego and fear of mathematics, with overtones of money. Primarily I have a simple desire to shine my ass—to show off a bit.”
Chaze and his wife, Mary Vincent Chaze, had five children. He died following a brief illness in Hattiesburg on 11 November 1990.
- James B. Lloyd, ed., Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817–1967 (1981)