American author Harry Crews has died. The New York Times reports the hard-living, adventure-seeking novelist, memoirist, journalist, retired university professor, and icon in Southern American literature, died in Gainesville, Florida, from complications of neuropathy. He was 76.
Crews created a cast of misfits, outlaws, and freaks to occupy the brutal worlds he wrote about in his 17 novels, and many short stories, novellas, and plays. In 1978, Crews wrote a startling memoir, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. He also wrote columns for Esquire and Playboy throughout the ’70s.
Though his books captivated many reviewers, they were not the stuff of bestseller lists, in part because they bewildered some readers and repelled others. But they attracted a cadre of fans so fiercely devoted that the phrase “cult following” seems inadequate to describe their ardor…. Despite their teeming decadence, or more likely because of it, Mr. Crews’s novels betray a fundamental empathy, chronicling his characters’ search for meaning in a dissolute, end-stage world. His ability to spin out a dark, glittering thread from this tangle of souls gave him a singular voice that could make his prose riveting…. To critics who taxed him with sensationalism, Mr. Crews — a plainspoken ex-Marine, ex-boxer, ex-bouncer, and ex-barker — replied, in effect, that it took decadence to lampoon decadence. His actual replies are largely unprintable.
(Video: via Melville House)