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Posts Tagged ‘Harry Crews’

“Harry Crews has a talent all his own. He begins where James Dickey left off.”
Norman Mailer

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good.”
Harry Crews

In his interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Cal Fussman mentioned that he’s only had writer’s block once in his life and writer Harry Crews (1935-2012)  helped him work through it.

Fussman was so moved reading the novel A Feast of Snakes by Crews that he got in his car and drove 20 hours to meet Crews unannounced at his Gainesville, Florida home. Fussman’s Esquire article Drinking at 1,300 FT: A 9/11 Story About Wine and Wisdom was the result.

I grew up in Central Florida and first became familiar with Crews’ writing back in the 80s. His essay A Day at the Dogfights (from Florida Frenzy) is hard hitting in the Hunter S. Thompson-style of immersive journalism.

From the late 60s to 1997 Crews not only published books, but taught creative writing at the University of Florida. Crews wrote about what he was after in his classes:

“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.”
Harry Crews
Essay Teaching and Writing in the University
From the book Florida Frenzy

And this is as good a time as any to throw in another quote of his on writing:

“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.”
Harry Crews

P.S. Two other names that came up in the Fussman/Ferriss interview were legendary fitness expert Jack LaLane and the great wrestler & coach Dan Gable. I have mentioned them both on this blog before and had the opportunity to work on video/TV productions with both of them. As they sing a few hundred times everyday here in Central Florida, “It’s a small world after all.”

Related link:
Harry Crews: On Writing and Feeling Like a Freak, NPR (1988)

Related posts:
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Jack LaLanne (1914-2011)
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Thanks for the Plug TomCruise.com (Touches on Dan Gable being Cruise’s hero back when he was a high school wrestler.)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing Touches on the novelist love of wrestling and how he was trying to get a screenplay done on Gables life.

Scott W. Smith

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“The most ordinary conversation in the south has a theological basis.”
Novelist Harry Crews

“There are fierce powers at work in the world boys. Good. Evil.
Mud (Matthew McConaughey)
Mud written by Jeff Nichols

One of the reasons I’ve been blogging in and around the movie Mud for the past week is because screenwriter Jeff Nichols has done what I think the best writers do. He’s told a story rooted in place.  And the reason he set the story in Arkansas is because that’s a place he knows well.

Back in 1988 Georgia-born novelist Harry Crews explained in an interview with Terry Gross how embracing his own roots led him to the writings that would lead to his literary success.

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good. And the reason it wasn’t any good was because I was trying to write about a world I did not know. One night it occurred to me that whatever strength I had was all back in there in Bacon County, Ga., with all that sickness and hookworm and rickets and ignorance and beauty and loveliness. But that’s where it was. It wasn’t somewhere else.”
Harry Crews
Harry Crews On Writing And Feeling Like A ‘Freak’/NPR

Granted being from the South does have its literary traditions. (Flannery O’Connor, Pat Conroy, James Dickey, Harper Lee, Ernest Gaines is just a sweeping overview.) But just in the last two days this blog has had readers from Canada, Australia, Germany, Philippines, Russia, Ireland, Croatia, Japan, Sweden, Portugal, UK, Finland, Spain and Venezuela. And there are stories to be told in all those places.

“Truth of the matter was stories was everything, and everything was stories.  Everybody told stories, it was a way of saying who they were in the world.”
Harry Crews

Because Jeff Nichols mentioned Harry Crews as an influence to his writing Mud it caused me to kick around online and see what I could find of interest about Crews. Found this documentary called Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus —a film by Andrew Douglas. One of the people the doc features is Harry Crews. Watching the trailer above and the clip below, you can see that it is a real world where Matthew McConaughey’s character Mud would feel at home.

Related Post: Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)

Scott W. Smith

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“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.”
Harry Crews

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.”
Harry Crews
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.

Related Post:
Writing Quote #1 (Flannery O’Connor)
Jeff Nichols’ Other Roots

Scott W. Smith

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