Harry Crews, a great writer, died on Wednesday. Long ago in Washington we would hand Harry Crews novels around like we were passing the grail. You would read a Harry Crews novel and you would be stunned by the experience. I would be afraid to suggest that anyone who does not know these books should read them, or if you loved them as I did that you should read them again. I fear that they would be dated, relics of a time unknowable unless you were actually there. Look him up on Amazon here. If I were to recommend one I'd say start with The Gospel Singer, maybe A Feast of Snakes. and go on from there. His autobiography, A Childhood, is also great.
Here are some Harry Crews quotes, some about writing, some not.
“Alcohol whipped me. Alcohol and I had many, many marvelous times together. We laughed, we talked, we danced at the party together; then one day I woke up and the band had gone home and I was lying in the broken glass with a shirt full of puke and I said, 'Hey, man, the ball game's up'.”
“If you wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read - if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”
“I first became fascinated with the Sears catalogue because all the people in its pages were perfect. Nearly everybody I knew had something missing, a finger cut off, a toe split, an ear half-chewed away, an eye clouded with blindness from a glancing fence staple. And if they didn't have something missing, they were carrying scars from barbed wire, or knives, or fishhooks. But the people in the catalogue had no such hurts. They were not only whole, had all their arms and legs and eyes on their unscarred bodies, but they were also beautiful.”
“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.”
"I decided a long time ago—very long time ago—that getting up at four o’clock to start work works best for me. I like that. Some people don’t like to get up in the morning. I like to get up in the morning. And there’s no place to go at four o’clock in the morning, and nobody’s gonna call you, and you can’t call anybody. Back when I was a drunk, at least in this little town, there’s no place to go buy anything to drink."
“Then I come home, eat a light lunch, then just go straight back to the thing. I might work till three o’clock . . . there comes a time of diminishing returns. You’re just jerking yourself off thinking you’re doing some good work, then you go back to it the next day and you think, ‘Oh, my God,’ and you have to throw away two or three pages. But the way I do it—I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of anyone doin’ it quite this way. I write on a great big square board. sit in a big overstuffed chair with this board on my lap, put a legal pad on top of that and write long hand. After that’s done, at some point I run it through a typewriter that’s older than I am—but it’s a beautiful machine, great action, huge keys, I love it—and then when I get through with that, I put it through the computer to revise, which is the only thing . . . I dunno . . . the only thing a computer is good for is to revise. Because, as you very well know, none of us need to go faster, we all need to go slower. I first among them. But the computer is a godsend for revisions. I don’t quite understand how we did it before we had the computer. I seem to remember a lot of tape and scissors.”
“Graham Greene—you’ve probably heard me quote before, because god knows, it’s true—“The writer is doomed to live in an atmosphere of perpetual failure.” There it is. There it is. Nah, you write things and write things—write a book for instance—and write and write and write and write and write, and you know, it’s not—every writer writes with the knowledge that nothing he writes is as good as it could be. Paul Valery: “A poem’s never finished, only abandoned.” The same thing with a novel. It’s never finished, only abandoned. I’ve had any number of novels where I’ve just at some point said to myself, well, unless you’re going to make the career out of this book—spend the rest of your goddamn life chewing on it—you might as well just package it up and send it on to New York. Go on to something else. Because between conception and execution there is a void, an abyss, that inevitably fucks up the conception. The conception never gets translated to the page. It just doesn’t. I don’t think it ever does. I think [Gustave] Flaubert kept Madame Bovary for nine years. Took him nine years to write it, well, he didn’t write it all in nine years. He could have written it in nineteen years, and he would still have felt the way he felt, and that was that it was a fine piece of work, but it was not as good as it could be. Same old same old."
Here's Harry. This will give you some idea of the power of the man.