“Writing fiction or plays or poetry seems to me to be a very messy business. To be a writer requires an enormous tolerance for frustration, for anxiety, for self-doubt.”
When writer/director Jeff Nichols mentioned in a recent interview that one of the books that influenced the writing of his film Mud was the Harry Crews book of essays A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, I knew it would be the perfect time to introduce some people to Crews and his writing. Since I grew up in Central Florida I became aware of the writer and University of Florida creative writing professor when I was about 20.
Crews, who died last year, was known back in the ’80s when I was in college as sort of a living Hemingway type character—with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson. He was a Marine, a boxer, and a heavy drinker. Add in he was raised in a dirt poor, dysfunctional Southern family and Crews had all the ingredients of a character in a Flannery O’Connor story. Dennis Miller called him a “different breed of cat.”
“Part of my job as a teacher is first to try to help my students determine what’s worth writing and what is not. If they want to write science fiction or detective stories, that’s fine with me; I just want to make sure they know what they’re doing, to make sure they realize they are not writing the kind of fiction that can crush the heart of the living memory. I want to show them that they are writing nothing but entertainment. It is not that the greatest fiction, the kind I want them to spend their energies on, is not entertaining. It is. But it is so much more than that. It is the ‘more than entertainment’ that I want the writers who work with me to know about, be concerned with, even consumed by.”
Essay Teaching and Writing in the University
From the book Florida Frenzy
Crews was born in Alma, Georgia—not far from the Okefenokee Swamp— in 1935 and his novels include A Feast of Snakes, The Gospel Singer and The Mulching of America. You can learn more about Crews and his work at harrycrews.org.