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Harry Crews

Born to 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 popular novels, including The Gypsy's Curse (1977), Body (1990), and Celebration (1997).

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."  Crews 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."

When he 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, was published.

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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