The legendary author and poet Jim Harrison died last week at the age of 78. Harrison was another member of the “next Hemingway” club, a hard-living, up-by-the-boot straps author who had gargantuan appetites for wine, food and women, and placed the act of writing above all. Harrison was also a long-time friend of Harry Crews. The two shared much – a rise from Depression-era poverty, a long period of failure prior to achieving literary success, a reputation for boozing and brawling – and had similar outlooks on life and writing.
In 1979, Crews sent Harrison a tape of a reading Crews had given from “A Childhood,” his memoir of growing up poor in Bacon County, Georgia. Harrison was moved and wrote to Crews: “It took me back with ineluctable force (Faulkner word) so that I shuddered. For some reason, you have helped me recover from my current brain burn. How we suffered!”
In the letter, Harrison wrote that he was overcome with emotion and had to pull to the side of the road to finish listening to the tape:
“Congratulations on cracking a hard case (my tears),” Harrison wrote to Crews. “F. Kafka said a book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us.”