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AN INTERVIEW WITH HARRY CREWS Harry Crews photo: Chamé courtesy of Harper & Rom Harry Crews is the author of several books, including Blood and Grits, Feast of Snakes, The Gospel Singer, and A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. An Interview with Harry Crews / Kay Bonetti Interviewer: Mr. Crews, you said that A Childhood was the hardest book you've ever had to write. Could you elaborate on that a little bit? Crews: Well, yes. I wanted very much to write the book, but I wasn't sure I could. It is first of all about people, many of whom are still alive, or their children are, and since I wanted to be true to that time and that place and that experience I put them in the book as they were. You and I know that most people don't want to be set down as they are. They want to look better than they are. It's a perfectly human thing, but you can't do that when you're writing. Over and above that, and probably more difficult in the writing of the book is the fact that my childhood was a kind of nightmare. I know that everybody's tired of hearing about unhappy childhoods, but I was raised on a tenant farm and the man I thought was my daddy was not my daddy. He was my uncle. Everything was turned six ways of Sunday. I fell into boiling water. I had infantile paralysis. I had to call all those incidents back to memory. I knew it wasn't going to be pleasant when I started, but it was a book I very much wanted to write, so I did it. Interviewer: Why do you call it "the biography of a place"? Crews: It has to do with the fact that we moved so much, with being tenant farmers. I've never sat down and tried to count out how many different places I lived between the time I was aware of myself—say four years old—until I left to go into the Marine Corps3t seventeen. We moved practically every year, sometimes twice a year. So I had to write about the people, about that place—Bacon County, Georgia—about the fact of the lives of tenant farmers of which we were a part. You made a crop and you moved on. After harvest, sometime in late summer after the tobacco was in, we'd get the mule and wagon and load up a few sticks of furniture, a few ladderback chairs and a bed or two and whatever, a washpot and two or three washtubs and the rest of it, and we'd move five or six miles down the road. I mean, it is the biography of that place, those people, and that time. Yes. Interviewer: It's also a place of the mind, isn't it? The Missouri Review · 145 Crews: Well, yes, because, I am told that as you are shaped in the first six, seven, ten years of your life, so you will grow. And the curious thing about human beings is they carry their past with them. We can record things in writing and remember, and I think in a very real sense you never leave your childhood. It's as though you had a sack on your back. It's always very much on your shoulders. Interviewer: How conscious were you, when you were writing, of the structure of the book? It is very beautifully structured, in the sense of Thoreau's Waiden. Crews: If you're writing a thing honestly, there are plans you can make, there are outlines you can make, there are notes that you can make to yourself about your intentions. AU of those things invariably change. They are reshaped and rethought. Writing is a very, very messy business . I left Georgia when I was seventeen years old to go into the Marine Corps, and I thought I was going to do the seventeen years. It turned out to be about up to my seventh birthday. So the thing was shaped as I went along. You're never quite sure which way the thing...


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