By Mike Miller
Harry Crews was born on June 7, 1935 in Bacon County, Georgia and died in Gainesville, Florida on March 28, 2012. He taught at the University of Florida for 30 years, and is considered a master of Southern literature.
He has created many memorable and freakish characters, and his novels are quite often strange, violent and dark.
His autobiography, "A Childhood: The Biography of a Place", is considered by many critics to be a masterpiece.
Most of Crew's works are about poor white Southerners, and he draws from his own life growing up dirt poor in rural south Georgia. Some of his books are set in Florida and that's why we have included him among Florida authors.
Crews had a rough childhood. His father died when Crews was not quite two years old, sleeping in the same bed. His mother remarried his father's brother, who turned out to be a violent and dangerous drunk.
When he was five, he developed severe leg cramps so bad he was in bed for several weeks. He had to learn how to walk again.
Crews thinks the stress of his violent home life was the cause of the cramps.
When he was six, he accidentally fell into a cast-iron pot being used to scald pigs. He had burns over two-thirds of his body and survived only because his head was above the boiling water. He suffered awful pain and loss of skin.
In spite of these hardships, he grew up and joined the Marine Corps when he was seventeen. While in the service, he began to read seriously. When he got out of the Marines, he enrolled at the University of Florida on the G.I. Bill,planning to be a writer.
He had a lot of hard years before his first successful book. He lost a son in a drowning accident, and was divorced. He began teaching in 1962, and his first novel, "The Gospel Singer", was published in 1968. He was hired shortly after that by the University of Florida, and published seven more novels over the next eight years.
Most of his novels are set in modern Florida or Georgia and are loaded with blood sports, insanity, and characters with weird compulsions and obsessions.
Early in Crews's career, famous novelist Norman Mailer said "Harry Crews has a talent all his own. He begins where James Dickey left off." You may remember Dickey as the author of "Deliverance".
This Florida author's writing is rooted in what is known as the Southern Gothic tradition. This is literature that includes the supernatural, mental illness and other grotesque things.
Southern Gothic is known for its damaged and delusional characters such as in the plays of Tennessee Williams and the novels of William Faulkner and Truman Capote.
Crews has been compared to Flannery O'Connor and other great Southern writers. He has influenced many younger writers through his writing and teaching, including Larry Brown and Tim McLaurin.
Crews has written screenplays, plays, and nonfiction articles, some of them are included in "Florida Frenzy". He also became a regular contributor to Esquire, Playboy, Sport, and other magazines.
Although many of Crews books have Florida settings, they are more general and Southern in nature. Some of his books have Georgia settings, and south Georgia and north Florida are close cultural cousins.
Some of Harry Crews books include:
(*)A reprint of Crews's first novel, The Gospel Singer. Also contains the previously unpublished novella, "Where Does One Go When There's No Place Left to Go?" This is a story about a writer named Harry Crews who is kidnapped by characters from his own novels.