It's possible that Mr. Crews's best book is
A Childhood: The Biography of a Place (1978)…a sharply remembered memoir about his impoverished upbringing in Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp…Now we have Mr. Geltner's biography to authoritatively fill in the gaps, and to trace the many stories behind the Crews legendthe drinking, the drugs, the bar fights, the women, the vase-throwing at faculty parties…[Geltner's] written a lean and pleasingly consumable book by sticking to essentials. He's delivered what Vladimir Nabokov said a biographer should: "plain facts, no symbol-searching, no jumping at attractive but preposterous conclusions, no Marxist bunkum, no Freudian rot"…Harry Crews led a big, strange, sad and somehow very American life. It is well told here.
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
Geltner brilliantly renders the life of the late writer Harry Crews (1935–2012) in this well-researched and vivid biography. It captures the wild spirit of an unflinching American writer from his early years in impoverished Bacon County, Ga. (which Crews devastatingly captured in his most beloved book, A Childhood), to his years as an esteemed but volatile faculty member in the University of Florida’s creative writing program. In just two decades, from the 1960s to the 1980s, Crews went from working as a junior college composition teacher to being a friend of Madonna and featured writer for Playboy. Geltner traces much of the inner pain in Crews’s life back to his tense relationship with his brother, Hoyett; the suspicion that his father was not his biological parent; and the shocking death by drowning of his young son. Geltner deftly examines each of Crews’s books and, without glossing over his alcoholism, shows that the hard living for which Crews was known did not break his ability to write. His discipline and respect for the art were reflected in the motto displayed above his desk: “Get Your Ass on the Chair.” Geltner proves that Crews was not just a great “Southern Gothic” writer, but a great American one, too. (May)
With the power of a spellbinding storyteller, Geltner splendidly captures Crews' blood, bone and marrow by leading us on a journey through all we need of Crews' hell, recognizing that without passing through this hellacious suffering, we can never truly understand him. Geltner's biography compels us to seek out Crews' novels to read, or re-read, and to discover the voices of a South just off the interstates and at the edges of its glittering urban centers.
Harry Crews was a uniquely gifted and haunted storyteller. Novelist, journalist, memoiristhe made each form his own in a way no one else had before or since. The pages that follow in this absorbing biography detail this and reach into the guts of the experiences that formed him and gave him a voice that was sad, brutal, and funny. Harry said that when it came to writing the truth about himselfor anything for that matterhe was not as interested in facts as he was in memory and belief.
Alcohol, rage, and determination mark a writer's life. In 1979, Harry Crews (1935-2012) stumbled drunkenly through a reading at the University of South Florida. "What did it take to be a real novelist?" an audience member shouted out. Defiantly, Crews shouted back: "Blood!...Bone!...Marrow!" He might well have added: sweat, tears, and alcohol. Geltner (Journalism/Valdosta State Univ.; Last King of the Sport Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray, 2012) draws on interviews with Crews, his colleagues, students, drinking buddies, and ex-wife and on Crews' fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction to produce a candid, sympathetic life of a wounded, self-destructive man. Born in rural Georgia to a family struck hard by the Great Depression, Crews' childhood was "filled with violence and pain and hideously damaged people" and "replete with disease and alienation and indescribable suffering." At 5, he contracted polio. Although doctors said he would never walk again, he ended up with only a limp. A few months later, he fell into a pot of scalding water, resulting in burns over two-thirds of his body. "At least in terms of physical agony," Geltner observes, "Harry's life had bottomed out early." Crews later escaped by joining the Marines; he married, had two sons, earned a college degree, and took a teaching job at the University of Florida, all the while determined to be a writer. His first novel, The Gospel Singer (1968), won critical praise for its "nice wild flavor," and some compared him to Faulkner and Hemingway. Prestigious houses vied for his work, and he published eight novels in eight years, got assignments from top-level magazines (Playboy, Esquire), and won a string of awards. But demons overcame him: Geltner calls him a functioning alcoholic, except when he was not. One year, he had 16 stays in rehab clinics. His classes—when he was sober enough to appear—were "tension- and testosterone-filled environments." An absorbing but sad chronicle of a tormented writer.
Blood, Bone, and Marrow Ted Geltner gives us a fast-paced narrative of the crazy, violent, tragic, and memorable life of Harry Crews. Geltner knew Crews and produces a book worthy of its subject. This is an excellent first-wave biography that will be a joy to all Harry Crews fans and will be an invaluable resource for scholars and enthusiasts alike.
author of Faulkner, Writer of Disability - Taylor Hagood
Geltner maintains a warm relationship with his subject, allowing Crews’ irreverent, raunchy, no-holds-barred personality to swagger forth in delightfully uncensored remarks and observations, many of them unprintable. We see the faces of the demons that compelled him through Geltner’s careful anatomy of their origins: the poisonous beginnings, the death of Crews’ first son by drowning, and the lifelong, 'relentless feelings of inferiority' that no success could check.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution - Gina Webb
Does real justice to a complicated, outsized literary figure . . . Trying to separate the conjoined twins of Harry Crews, the shit-kicking, vodka-swilling legend, and Harry Crews, the person, is a delicate, messy operation.
Blood, Bone, and Marrow manages to do it without either dying on the table.
New Republic - Margaret Eby
A lean and pleasingly consumable book . . . Harry Crews led a big, strange, sad and somehow very American life. It is well told here.
New York Times - Dwight Garner
Blood, Bone and Marrow offers a compelling, often funny and frequently sad account of a deeply flawed and yet profoundly influential American writer. Harry Crews toiled his whole life against the cards life had dealt him and he went to his grave without knowing the answer to one of the most fundamental of life’s questions: Who is my daddy? What blood runs through these veins? . . . The epigraph of the book’s final chapter is a quote from Crews himself: 'The big oaks have to fall down so the little oaks can grow up. And now it’s my turn to go down.' Harry Crews was a big oak, one of the biggest, and in my mind he’ll never go down.
Wrapped Up In Books - Guy Salvidge
Harry Crews was a brilliant, maddening, hell-roaring personality who also happened to be a great writer.
Blood, Bone and Marrow will stand as the definitive Crews biography. His true life was bigger and wilder than even his own novels.
Ted Geltner’s engaging and well-researched biography. . . offers a detailed look at Crews’s journey from deep poverty to worldwide renown. With its evocative and unflinching narrative,
Blood, Bone, and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews is an important addition to our understanding of a crucial and complex figure.
Journal of Southern History - Charles L. Hughes