Harry Crews, Redneck ’Riter

Crews was born into a family of sharecroppers that farmed with mules. The house had few books beyond the Sears catalog and its bright, alluring pages. But as a boy, he felt the urge to write. “I have no idea where it came from. Strange thing, isn’t it?”

Crews said one explanation might be the Southern storytelling tradition. After a long day of work, the family entertained itself by talking. “Summertime on the front porch or in winter by the fireplace, with the foot tub passed around, we’d tell stories—the uncles, cousins, all the women.”

His family told stories, but could never understand his wanting to make a living by writing stories. “For a grown man not to have something useful in his hand—they can’t see that. It smacks of professional people, and of the feminine.”

Though Crews left the land, he still keeps sharecropper hours. The writing day starts at 3 a.m., without any prodding from an alarm clock, and he writes seven days a week. In his spare time, he has been a university professor, carnival barker, Marine, karate enthusiast, and trainer of falcons. Crews also managed to get a reputation as a hell raiser. He has been dry for a long time, but wears the legend on his face and six-foot frame.

His wary eyes—pale and glacial blue, like a Husky’s—peer out from under the furrowed ledge of his forehead. His face has been punched and shoved, creased by raucous laughter and countless howls of pain. His legs are stiff from too many motorcycle accidents. His right arm has a tattooed hinge, the result of getting drunk and failing asleep in the company of a tattoo artist while on a magazine assignment in Alaska.

Crews is best known for his novels, including A Feast of Snakes, The Gypsy Curse, and The Knockout Artist. His magazine profiles and articles have been collected in Blood and Grits. His work hasn’t strayed far from home. Most of his fiction is set in South Georgia or North Florida. The world formed by his novels is at once funny, sad, and violent, and populated with bizarre characters.

His books also have plenty of sex. “I can’t pretend people only exist from the navel up. If you have a problem with your rump, the doctor never says, ‘Excuse me, but I don’t look at rumps.’”

—The Courier-Journal

—drawing by Ira Simmons

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