Harry Crews, the author of numerous short stories and novels, died on March 28, 2012 from complications of neuropathy, according to his ex-wife. Though his prose was simple and lean, Crews’s subjects were far from ordinary. Pushing—or perhaps provoking—the bounds of the Southern Gothic genre, Crews suffused his fiction with grotesqueries, pitch black humor, and sometimes the outright bizarre: in one novel a character systematically ingests, piece by piece, an entire car that has been sitting in his father’s junkyard.
Having caught the eye of Andrew Lytle, Crews published one of his earliest short stories, “The Unattached Smile,” in the summer 1963 issue of the Sewanee Review. A few years later in 1969 Walter Sullivan reviewed Crews’s first novel, The Gospel Singer, for the magazine. He is encouraging, even acknowledges the writer’s gift (“the risks Crews takes are big ones—which in the case of a writer with his talent, is the way it ought to be”), but in the end it is clear that Sullivan is somewhat taken back by the author’s bathetic bent. “Crews is a little too bold for my taste,” he admits. Yet it seems just as likely that Crews would have appreciated Sullivan’s comments: boldness was Crews’s hallmark. And where Sullivan finds characteristic first-timer flaws in the novel—“energetic but uneven, competent but clumsy”—he remains confident in Crews’s ability. “[He] has a good eye, an excellent ear for voices, and a fine dramatic sense. He will be sharper his next time out and he ought to do admirably”—which Crews did, publishing fifteen more novels and garnering a cult following. When placed among the other literary men and women of the past fifty years, it seems that the title of his unofficial website best describes Crews, “a large and startling figure.”