desperately poor parents
in one of the country's most impoverished rural areas--Bacon County,
Georgia--on May 7, 1935, Harry Crews went on to become the author of several
including The Gypsy's Curse (1977), Body (1990), and
The child of farmers Ray and Myrtice Crews, young Harry grew up on
several farms scattered across the poorest parts of Georgia.
His was not an easy life. "My daddy died of a heart attack when
I was 21 months old and my brother was 5. [My mother's] second marriage was to a
man who might have been a good husband had he not been a brutal drunk."
said that the only reason he knew there was life outside of rural Georgia
was because of books.
Crews suffered the first of two debilitating illnesses in 1940 at the age
of five. The first was a fever accompanied by a painful muscle
contraction which caused the muscles in his legs to seize, drawing his heels
up against the backs of his legs, forcing him to lie in bed for six weeks
until the cramps in his legs subsided and he could be carried around the
farm. Gradually, his legs straightened enough so he could haul himself
along a fence, working and strengthening his atrophied muscles. Later
in life, Crews ascribed the illness to a physiological manifestation
of the psychological stress induced by his tumultuous home life.
Used to moving from one hapless plot of ground to the next barren patch,
Crews accompanied his mother and brother away from the farm to escape her
second husband, who by then had taken to drinking heavily. He was
known for indiscriminately blasting his shotgun in the house at all hours.
Myrtice and her family moved to Jacksonville,
Florida, a burgeoning industrial town, where Crews spent his adolescent
years, reading and writing whenever he could.
When he was only 17, he volunteered for the Marines.
"Being good, southern, ignorant country boys," he wrote, "we did the
good, southern, ignorant country thing: we volunteered as quickly as
possible, anxious as we were to go and spill our blood in the good,
southern, ignorant country way." He joined his
brother in Korea, and it was there that he got his real education,
all the while continuing his voracious quest for literature. He later said, "When I got
to my first duty station and walked into the base library, it was like
throwing a starving man a turkey. I did my time in the Corps with a book
always at hand."
returned from Korea,
Crews enrolled in the University of Florida on the G. I.
Bill, but he dropped out after two years to drive around the country on his
motorcycle. He said, "Choking and gasping from Truth and Beauty, I
gave up on school for a Triumph motorcycle." During his road trip, he worked
as a bartender, a cook, and a caller at a carnival sideshow. He also began
writing, but it wasn't until 1968 that his first book, The Gospel Singer,
Since then, Crews has published continuously, and
except for a spell of a decade between A Feast of Snakes and All
We Need of Hell, he has produced a new novel nearly every year.
Crews said, "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.
"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."
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