Author Harry Crews. The tattoo is an excerpt from E. E. Cummings’ poem “Buffalo Bill”. (“How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?”)
A great and grizzled powerhouse of American fiction has left us. He was 76 years old. A wild Southern gent with a penchant for heavy drinkin’, Harry Crews wrote like he lived: hard, bloody, sharp, gritty. His ex-wife, Sally Ellis Crews –with whom he remained great friends after they divorced for a second time in 1964– informed the AP on Thursday that Crews had long suffered from neuropathy: ”He had been very ill. In a way it was kind of a blessing. He was in a lot of pain.”
Crews wrote beautifully about pain. Speaking about his own books: “The smell of blood is on them [...] the sense of mortality is a little too strong.” That may very well be true. But like blood, they are also as rich and vital as all get-out. If you haven’t experienced his world before, but appreciate the output of writers like Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner or Bukowski, you will likely find loads of gruff and stalwart reassurance in the work of Harry Crews.
A forthcoming memoir by Crews is slated to be published in the near future. Long before his passing, there’d been a lot of talk of reissuing his full bibliography in digital editions and beyond. Here’s hoping.
Visit HarryCrews.org, which features many essays, interviews and portraits. Some sagacious quotes from the hellion below.
Harry Crews. Photo by Oscar Sosa for The New York Times.
“I never wanted to be well-rounded. I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design.”
“If you’re gonna write, for God in heaven’s sake, try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you’ve been told.”
“Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about. … It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause—to look at them and make something of them.”
“There is something beautiful about scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.”
— Harry Crews