The self-described "Fonzie of Literature," Richard Price has come a long way from his days growing up in the Bronx projects. From his gritty 1974 debut, The Wanderers, to hit Hollywood screenplays like The Color of Money and Clockers, Price brings a signature brand of street-savvy cool to his work.
In a 1981 essay he wrote for The New York Times entitled "The Fonzie of Literature," Bronx-born Richard Price sums up the origin of his rep as a streetwise scribe:
"I doubt that if I had written about the suburbs I would have attracted nearly as much attention. I found most interviewers and reviewers more than willing to romanticize my background, to make it sound like I had come out of Hell's Kitchen or an Odyssey House. I spent three hours being interviewed by People magazine, insisting that I was not Piri Thomas or Claude Brown, I was a middle-class Jewish kid who went to three colleges. But when the issue hit the stands, the leadoff of the one-paragraph squib was, 'Richard Price comes from the slum-stricken streets and paved playgrounds of the Bronx.'"
So while he may not be the hardened thug that critics seem to want to believe he is, his string of bestselling novels and hit screenplays are filled with enough urban wit and grit to garner him commercial and criticalif not streetcred.
After graduating from Cornell in 1971, Price broke out of the Bronx with The Wanderers in 1974, when he was 24 and in the process of earning an M.F.A. from Columbia. A series of hard-boiled vignettes about a teenage gang coming up in the 1960s that Price scribbled in his spare time, the collection was whisked off to a literary agent by the head of Columbia's writing program, and Price's debut found a publisher. In 1979, Orion released a major motion picture based on the book. A sort of "anti-Grease," The Wanderers noticeably lacked the nostalgic bubblegum bounce of other coming-of-age novels and flicks of its day, and touched off Price's reputation for being unafraid to expose the dark side of Americana.
Two more acclaimed novels would followI>Bloodbrothers (1976) and Ladies' Man (1978)but soon an out-of-control cocaine habit plunged Price into a creative and personal abyss. "I wasn't even that big of a doper," he recalled to Salon.com. "I was definitely bush league. But enough that it sort of preoccupied me for three years."
Hollywood proved to be the sunny savior Price needed to help him climb out of the funk. By the mid-'80s, he had become a top screenwriter with a roster of hits to his credit, including the The Color of Money (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award), Sea of Love, Ransom, and Mad Dog and Glory. "[Screenwriting] kept me in the writing game, and it also showed me I was able to write about things that were not connected to my autobiography," he told Salon.
In 1994, Price returned to fiction with the novel Clockersa gritty depiction of crack trafficking in the fictional city of Dempsy, New Jersey, a Dantean hell of crime and urban blight. (Adapted into a film by Spike Lee, Clockers would earn Price another Academy Award nomination for screenwriting.) Since then, he has revisited Dempsy in blockbusters like Freedomland and Samaritan, garnering praise for his unblinkered view of inner-city life and his pitch-perfect ear for street talk. A writer's writer, Price counts among his many admirers such distinguished novelists as Russell Banks, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Elmore Leonard, and Stephen King. But in a 2003 interview, he confessed that the greatest validation he ever received came from his teenage daughter who read Samaritan and told him he was "really good!" Says Price, "Of course I want The New York Times to sing my praises, but she's my kid."
Good To Know
Price lives in New York City with his wife, downtown artist Judy Hudson, and their two daughters.
The inspiration for his novelFreedomland came from the infamous case of Susan Smitha woman who admitted to murdering her own children after initially reporting a fictional carjacking.
A former cocaine addict, Price occasionally volunteers his time to speak about the dangers of drugs to high school students.