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Florida Artists: Harry Crews
Painting of author Harry Crews, a Floridian authorA prolific author of international standing, Harry Crews penned seventeen novels, two award-winning collections, short stories, essays and film screenplays. A brilliant novelist in the Southern Regional tradition and a longtime professor of creative writing, Harry Crews is well known as a gifted instructor and mentor for younger writers. Rising from very difficult rural circumstances in his youth, he taught for almost a lifetime at the University of Florida in Gainesville, his alma mater. For 50 years, his writing has shined a literary spotlight on the cultures of Florida’s common folk, giving voice to their lives. He is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including that of The National Institute of Arts and Letters. Termed a literary lion by national media, the artist has carved out a major place for himself in the literary communities of Florida, the nation, and the world.

Harry Eugene Crews was born on June 7, 1935, in Bacon County, Georgia, to Ray and Myrtice, who worked a desperate and indigent living farming in dirt-poor southern Georgia. Crews wrote of his childhood: "My daddy died of a heart attack when I was 21 months old and my brother was 5. Her second marriage was to a man who might have been a good husband had he not been a brutal drunk."

Crews suffered the first of two debilitating illnesses in 1940 at the age of 5. The first was a fever accompanied by a painful muscle contraction which caused the muscles in his legs to seize, drawing his heels up against the backs of his legs, forcing him to lie in bed for six weeks until the cramps in his legs subsided and he could be carried around the farm. Gradually, Crews' legs straightened enough so he could haul himself along a fence, working and strengthening the atrophied muscles. Later in life, Crews would ascribe the illness as a physiological manifestation of the psychological stress induced by the tumultuous home life. Kust a short time later Harry Crews suffered severe burns by tipping over a large pot of boiling water. It would take several bed-ridden months for Crews to heal, for his skin to regrow.


Harry Crews Floridian author and teacherIn 1953, with his brother already fighting in Korea, Crews, only 17, volunteered with the Marine. After his discharge Harry Crews enrolled in the University of Florida. Crews wrote: "With the G.I. Bill I went to the University, not because anyone there might teach me to write fiction, but because I thought someone there might teach me how to make a living while I taught myself how to write fiction. At the end of two years, however, choking and gasping from Truth and Beauty, I gave up on school for a Triumph motorcycle."

Interviewing Crews in 1974, Al Burt noted that "the burden of writing ambitions brought him back [to the University of Florida] in 1958" . About his return to higher education, Crews wrote: "But at least I still had the good government tit to suck on. If I carried a full load of courses and maintained a C average, I got three hots and a cot and more time than I needed to read and continue my efforts to learn to write".

Harry finally graduated and moved his wife, Sally, and son, Patrick Scott, to Jacksonville where Harry taught Junior High English for a year. Harry returned to Gainesville and the university to work on his master's in English Education. It was during this period that he and Sally divorced for the first time. Harry continued his studies, graduated, and - denied entrance into UF's Creative Writing program - took a teaching position at Broward Community College in the subject of English. It was here in south Florida that Harry convinced Sally to return to him, and they were re-married. In 1964, their son, Patrick Scott died of accidental drowning. This proved to be too heavy a burden on the family, and Harry and Sally were once again divorced.

Harry Crews' first published novel, The Gospel Singer, was released in 1968. His novels include: A Feast of Snakes, The Hawk is Dying , Body, Scar Lover, Karate Is A Thing of the Spirit, All We Need of Hell, The Mulching of America, Car, and Celebration. He published a memoir in 1978 titled A Childhood: The Biography of a Place.

Crews was the subject of the first installment of the "Rough South" documentary series written and directed by Gary Hawkins. The film, entitled The Rough South of Harry Crews won a regional Emmy Award and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Gold Award in 1992.  Crews passed away in 2012.

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Florida Artist
Author
A prolific author of international standing, Harry Crews penned seventeen novels, two award-winning collections, short stories, essays and film screenplays. A brilliant novelist in the Southern Regional tradition and a longtime professor of creative writing, Harry Crews is well known as a gifted instructor and mentor for younger writers.
DOB: June 7, 1935 00:00:00.000