Getting Naked with Harry Crews: Interviews / Edition 1

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Harry Crews on getting naked: 
"If you’re gonna write, for God in heaven’s sake try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you’ve been told. . . . If you’re gonna write fiction, you have to get right on down to it."

"Harry Crews cannot refrain from storytelling. These conversations are blessed with countless insights into the creative process, fresh takes on old questions, and always, Crews’s stories: modern-day parables that tell us how it is to live, to work, and to hurt."--Jeff Baker, Oxford American

"Harry Crews has indelible ways of approaching life and the craft of writing. This collection shows that he elevates both to a near-religious artform."--Matthew Teague, Oxford American

In 26 interviews conducted between 1972 and 1997, novelist Harry Crews tells the truth--about why and how he writes, about the literary influences on his own work, about the writers he admires (or does not), about which of his own books he likes (or does not), about his fascination with so-called freaks, and about his love of blood sports. Crews reveals the tender side under his tough-guy image, discussing his beloved mother and his spiritual quest in a secular world.

Crews also speaks frankly about his failed relationships, the role that writing played in them, and his personal struggles with alcohol and drugs and their impact on his life and work. Those seeking insights into his work will find them in these interviews. Those seeking to be entertained in Crewsian fashion will not be disappointed.

Harry Crews on his tattoo and mohawk . . .
"If you can’t get past my ‘too’--my tattoo--and my ‘do’--the way I got my hair cut--it’s only because you have decided there are certain things that can be done with hair and certain things that cannot be done with hair. And certain of them are right and proper and decent, and the rest indicate a warped, degenerate nature; therefore I am warped and degenerate. 'Cause I got my hair cut a different way, man? You gonna really live your life like that? What’s wrong with you?"

On advice to young writers . . .
"You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live. That’s what I’ve discovered about writing. The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing. If you wait till 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’ll 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."
On being "well-rounded" . . .
"I never wanted to be well-rounded, and I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design."
Harry Crews is the author of 23 books, including The Gospel Singer, Naked in Garden Hills, This Thing Don’t Lead to Heaven, Karate Is a Thing of the Spirit, Car, The Hawk Is Dying, The Gypsy’s Curse, A Feast of Snakes, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, Blood and Grits, The Enthusiast, All We Need of Hell, The Knockout Artist, Body, Scar Lover, The Mulching of America, Celebration, and Florida Frenzy (UPF, 1982).

Erik Bledsoe is an instructor of English and American studies at the University of Tennessee. He has published articles on southern writers and edited a special issue of the Southern Quarterly devoted to Crews. His 1997 interview with Harry Crews from that magazine is included in this collection.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard W. Wertz
"If you're gonna write, for God in heaven's sake try to get naked," insists author Harry Crews. "Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you've been told." Editor Bledsoe, an instructor of English and American studies at the University of Tennessee, put together and edited this collection of twenty-six published and unpublished interviews, including one of his own, that collectively cover a period of twenty-five years. During an only slightly longer period of time, Crews, now sixty-four, has published at least twelve novels, an autobiography, screenplays and columns and articles for magazines like Esquire and Playboy.
It would seem a bit pointless to argue that unless the subject at hand is the man himself a clothed man can reveal truth as ably as a naked one. For one thing, this book is about the man himself. For another, Crews is a man who has approached life without a safety net. Crews doesn't observe the human condition, he plunges into it. If Harry Crews is naked, you can bet the emperor has no clothes. Growing up in a tenant farm family in Georgia, he survived an alcoholic stepfather who punctuated his brutal rages with random shotgun blasts about the house. He survived a plunge into vat of boiling water intended for dead pigs. He survived a bout of infantile paralysis. As an adult he has survived drug binges, drunken scrapes and pool hall brawls that left him jailed, broken and bleeding.
"If you can't play with pain, you can't play," he told interviewer Hank Nuwer, who titled his interview "The Writer Who Plays With Pain." A moment earlier Crews had differentiated himself from the literature professors at the University of Florida: "They ain't seen blood, and all their bones are intact. They see a little blood and they think the game's over."
Bledsoe, however, hopes this collection will provide balance to the public legend of Crews as a macho drunkard, out on the edge and flirting with self-destruction. "Certainly, he is at times revealed as boisterous, abrasive and self-destructive, but we also see a Crews who is thoughtful and concerned, both on a social and human level, a man who can be incredibly tender and charming," Bledsoe writes.
The book does provide such glimpses, as in Crews mulling over the nature of religion. While surely not alone in seeing himself as a believer with nothing to believe in, he is perhaps more than commonly devout in believing "church is really good for one reason: it is a place to go and sit down and contemplate the inadequacies of your own heart ...."
Perhaps of more interest are the things Crews says about the creative process and the craft of writing. His stories involve grotesque events and characters. Crews detests automobiles, and his novel "Car" a man eats one, piece by piece. A frequent Crews device--some would say his signature device--is to people his novels with so-called freaks: a man with withered legs who walks on his hands, a man who weighs 600 pounds, any number of midgets and the founder of a soap company who gives inspirational speeches to his minions through a harelip.
The creation of such stories and characters is not a particularly conscious process, Crews tells his interviewers. He talks of sitting down to begin a story and groping in the dark until the characters and their circumstances begin to form. Then, during extensive revisions and rewrites, he strives to shape his stories along the clean, narrative lines he very much admires in the work of Graham Greene.
Harry Crews has lived hard to acquire the raw material, the darkness in which he gropes for stories, and he has worked hard at mastering the craft of telling them. He tells interviewers he is deeply suspicious of both postmodernism and science fiction. Blood and bones are what are important, he says.
"See, I believe all of the best fiction is about the same thing," he says in a 1992 interview at Memphis State University. "It's about somebody trying to do the best he can with what he's got. That's all - the best he can with what he's got - sometimes nobly, sometimes ignobly."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813017099
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • Publication date: 12/1/1999
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.41 (d)

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  • Posted May 30, 2009

    Insights into the mind of a creative genius

    I found Harry Crews by accident, looking for yet another Michael Creighton novel in the library fiction rows(Crews would be bemused by this but not surprised - nothing could surprise Harry Crews. He pejoratively classifies Creighton as "issue fiction" ). In the ensuing six months, I have read everything of Crews' that I could find. Halfway through "Getting Naked," a collection of interviews with the man, I decided that I needed to own the book to use as regular inspiration for my own creative life. As an ancillary result of reading "Getting Naked," I have begun reading Graham Greene, whom Crews credits as his primary influence. Don't like Greene any more than Faulkner however.

    Getting Naked With Harry Crews reveals, necessarily somewhat repetitively, the inner workings, artistic credo, and work ethic of a great artist's mind. Anyone familiar with the difficulty of the creative life can gain ground on his own demons by listening to Crews' tales of horror.

    Harry Crews is a guy that I'd really like to sit down with and enjoy a glass of water with

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