What any good reader and writer will notice first about Harry Crews is his style, his English. Not a bit of the Yankee taint to it—that hackneyed idiom that predominates in our country ~ilana
Having stumbled on Harry Crews’ books recently, I think of him as perhaps our greatest novelist, story-teller, and stylist, who writes exquisite English; a disturbing genius, but that is what good literature does. It disturbs, rivets, inspires, wows, and above all, it avoids the cardinal sin of boring.
Good writing is, moreover, wicked hard. Yes, the gifted few are born with The Gift. But the truths that jump out at me from this interview are these:
Gift or not, you have nothing unless you hone it, practice, know how bad you are and watch the best like a hawk. A really good writer knows exactly what is remarkable.
The other thing Crews, an ungainly man, says which is immutable truth is that the champion is in competition with the self. I can’t count the times a pompous older (always white) male wrote to put the Little Woman down for her English (“$5 dollar words”) something that, I venture, would never have been suggested to a male writer. My reply, of course, was:
“First, fuck off. Next, just to be safe, stay away from the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, too.”
I can recommend “A Childhood: A Biography of a Place” (1978) and “The Gospel Singer.”
Just the title of the first!!!! Obviously: There is no home without a place, without kin. That’s Harry Crews. Straight to the truth.
What any good reader and writer will notice first about Crews is his style, his English. It’s what struck me. Not a bit of the Yankee taint to it—that hackneyed vernacular and idiom that predominate in the country. Nothing but exquisite English, idiosyncratically used.
Tennessee writer Kevin Wilson, professor at Sewanee, wrote the introduction for “The Gospel Singer.” He has similarly observed the following about Harry Crews’ style:
The novel is “horrific,” … — and yet “the sentences at times are just unbelievably beautiful.” Building on this contrast, Wilson debunks any rumor of sentimentality in the work: “Crews doesn’t have nuance regarding race or gender or religion or really anything, but the one place he is nuanced is his language.” By being “wildly precise and violent…”
The best of fiction is similarly unencumbered and thus endowed. “Wildly precise and violent” with one’s language is the way to be. If you can.
Ilana, I have the distinct feeling that you wouldn’t appreciate Harry’s vulgar definition of “true love” .
But see, appreciating a person’s talent is not the same as agreeing with him. A true intellectual—an intellectually curious good reader—doesn’t need conformity with her person or her values to appreciate true talent in an artist.
I didn’t like Picasso as a person. There is no denying his talent. I don’t like cubism; prefer Picasso’s Blue Period. THERE IS NO DENYING HIS TALENT.
Thought you would enjoy this Ilana – I have been away from SA far too long and feel this “deep longing” for my beautiful country every day – you will KNOW what I mean.
Author Unknown: ?? ?? #proudlysouthafrican
I sit here quietly thinking about what it means to me to be South African, to explain the effect that this land has on me…
The perfume of rain on African soil. The scent of woodfires drifting across the highveld on winter evenings. There’s a very distinctive aroma just as one starts coming into George / Knysna / Plett (I’ve never figured out which herb it is), in much the same way the smell of Wild Sage defines the area around Santawani in Botswana.
The odour of thatch in a game lodge. The bouquet of dust and the various plants when one gets into the bush, sometimes a whiff of something dead. The tang of the ocean at the seaside. The smell of ‘moer’ coffee over an early morning fire, or the delicious aroma of roasting meat over flames – whether you call it a braai or shisa nyama (but definitely NOT a barbeque, a barbie, or a ghastly NZ sausage sizzle!)
There is also something about the light here. “Santorini Blue”… I don’t know if that’s an actual colour, but it seems to describe the hue of the highveld sky on a winter’s day to perfection. We live in “big sky” country – whether blue, or orange in sunset, or dark grey and rent by lightening, or velvet black and filled with stars that seem close enough to touch – the sky is ever present. As is the moon. I am always aware of the moon, from a sickle moon to the full fecund globe that is full moon. Silver light gilding thorn trees, juxtaposed against dark shadows on the savannah, is not a sight one easily forgets.
The caw of the ubiquitous, raucous Hadedah in suburbia, the burbling call of a rainbird (Burchell’s Coucal) when a thunderstorm is on its way, the beautiful Diederick’s Cuckoo announcing the arrival of spring, the screech of a barn owl or the evocative call of the Fish Eagle. Jackals calling as the sun goes down, a lion’s roar quite literally making the air reverberate, or the chilling whoops of the hyenas. The cacophony of barking geckos that start up as the sun goes down over Deception Pan, or a veritable orchestra of frogs around a pan in the summer months. Cicadas shrilling on days so hot that the air shimmers, or a nightjar calling in the dead of night in the bushveld.
Days of withering heat often followed by the lightest cool breeze, just as the sun is setting. A gentle little wind, which plays with your hair like an absent-minded lover, reminding you that the cool of the night will soon be with you. Walking in the bush very early in the morning, the sun’s rays catch the dew on spiders’ webs, reminding you that life, both seen and unseen, is all around you. Trout fishing as the sun peeps over the horizon in Dullstroom, so cold that the water droplets freeze on your line…
The colours of this land are not subtle either. The blood red of the coral tree, the green metallic glint of sunbirds, the striped black and white hide of the zebra, or sapphire blue of a kingfisher. The miles and miles of yellow and orange daisies in Namaqualand in September, or pink and white swathes of cosmos along the roads in April. The lilac and turquoise of the roller, the tawny hide of a lion or the emerald green of a little dung beetle that makes its appearance in the summer months. From the golden dunes of the Namib to an unimaginable number of greens in the Knysna Forest. All vivid and arresting.
Talk to me of Morrungulo or Tsodilo Hills, the great Drakensberg, Platteland dorps and the great Karoo. The warmth of Sodwana Bay or the icy kelp forests of the Atlantic Ocean. Of wine farms and fynbos in the Cape, to meerkats and diamonds in the north. Show me our people, in so many hues, with brightly coloured traditional costumes – and even brighter smiles.
All of this creates a frisson of excitement, passion each and every day, a vivid, immediate sense of being alive that I have found nowhere else….
These are my people. This is my land.
Because I am, at the very core of my being, a child of Africa!
You are far safer in America!