Harry Crews: Biographical Sketch
by Skip Hulett, Georgiana Librarian
Harry Eugene Crews was born June 7, 1935, in Bacon County, Georgia, to Myrtice (Haselden) Crews and Ray Hoyett Crews, a farmer who died from a heart attack when Harry was not yet two years old.
“When I was a boy,” Crews wrote, “stories were conversation and conversation was stories.” Stories became a refuge for Crews amid the poverty of his youth “in the worst hookworm and rickets part of Georgia.” A mysterious childhood paralysis; a horrible scalding accident; his mother’s second, turbulent marriage and divorce from a drunken uncle whom Crews had been led to believe was his natural father; shuttled back and forth as his mother tried to raise he and an older brother, earning a living in a factory ghetto of Jacksonville, Florida—these and other experiences would feed his desire to imagine, to create and, ultimately, to write.
Defying the odds for someone with his background, and all the while writing “like a house afire” and driven to become a novelist, Crews went on to serve in the Marine Corps and taught high-school and junior-college English with a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida. (Ironically, Crews notes, he was denied admission to the UF graduate English program, in which he would later be invited to teach and from which he would retire a full professor in 1997.) A protégé of novelist Andrew Lytle, Crews managed to break into print with his first short story publication, in the Sewanee Review, in 1962. He did not publish his first novel, The Gospel Singer, until 1968, when he was 32; after that, however, he published at the rate of nearly a novel a year for eight years. In the 1970s he began writing for Playboy and other magazines, wrote a monthly column for Esquire and, encouraged by movie producers who were optioning his novels, he began writing screenplays, both original and based on his own works. To date, none of his screenplays have been produced; only one of his novels has made the leap to film, A Hawk Is Dying (2006). In 1978 Harper & Row published, to considerable, enduring acclaim, Crews’ memoir of his youth, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. Two compilations of his nonfiction work, Blood and Grits and Florida Frenzy were issued in 1979 and 1982
A decade characterized by drug and alcohol abuse and creative lapses ended in 1987 with the publication of Crews’ ninth novel, All We Need of Hell. In the two decades since then he has published eight more novels—the most recent in 2006, An American Family: the Child with the Curious Marking.
Published abroad in the U. K. since 1972, Crews’ works have been translated into Dutch, Italian, French, Basque, Hebrew, and German. In 2002, the University of Georgia Libraries honored Harry Crews for his literary output, inducting him into the library’s Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
Crews has been married twice, both times to Sally Ellis (and twice divorced). Their first son, Patrick Scott Crews, died in an accidental drowning in 1964, and their other son, Byron Jason Crews, is a blues guitarist and playwright who teaches English at Wright State University. A grandfather in his 72nd year, Crews continues to live and write in Gainesville, Florida, where he is at work on a novel set in the 1940s in the Springfield Section of Jacksonville, Florida.