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RICHARD RANKIN RUSSELL Baylor University “We pick at the scabs”: Writerly Persistence and Family Woundedness in Harry Crews’s Blood Issue IN 1989, THE ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE OFFERED HARRY CREWS A $15,000 commission to write a full-length play. Typically, Crews saw the offer as a challenge, telling Erik Bledsoe, “since I’d never written a play, didn’t know the first thing about it, I said yes, just to see if I could” (“An Interview with Harry Crews” 355). He looked back in satisfaction on the play’s reception in 1998, contentedly noting in the same interview, “The play got a standing ovation. There were seven new plays done there, and I got a standing ovation. It’s been performed at several local places since then. I always threatened to keep working on it until I got it down; it’s too damn long” (355).1 The mix of pleasure and dissatisfaction in his comments about his lone play, one on which he had started then abandoned ten years earlier,2 offers valuable insights into the existential worldview of this often inscrutable writer who nonetheless continues to write about realistic rural communities, the family, and violence. Moreover, Blood Issue remains the only fictional work by Crews to address and incorporate significant details from his compelling and disturbing autobiography and may be the clearest statement of his conception of the writer. Author of numerous novels, many fine essays, and an outstanding autobiography, Harry Crews has gained only belated recognition in the academy. The publication of Perspectives on Harry Crews in 2001 by the University Press of Mississippi and the edited collection of interviews 1 Damon Sauve notes in his online bibliography of Crews that R. Joseph Adams, “the maverick director of Spirit of the Horse Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, selected Blood Issue for production and scheduled the play to run from April 20th to May 14th . The local press gave good reviews to Adams’ production: ‘Director John Clark Donahue has drawn a first-rate performance from nearly everyone in the cast.’” 2 Crews told David Jeffrey and Donald Noble in 1979 that he is “writing a play, the first play that I’ve ever attempted. I know nothing much about plays except insofar as I’ve read them” (“Harry Crews: Part of an Interview” 102). 272 Richard Rankin Russell Getting Naked with Harry Crews in 1999 by the University Press of Florida—both edited by Erik Bledsoe—probably marked a high point in Crews criticism. I believe there is still a need, however, to expand our critical sense of Crews’s work. For example, I have long wondered why Crews’s gift for drama has been ignored. Judging from his terse, colloquial dialogue in his fiction and autobiography and his instinct for dramatic situation, Crews is a natural dramatist, but has written only Blood Issue. This essay argues that through its portrayal of Joe Bass, the writer who has returned to his family in southwest Georgia, Blood Issue meta-dramaticallybothexemplifiesCrews’sBeckettianpersistenceinthe face of despair and absurdity and models a lingering task of the now often deracinated Southern writer—to pick at the closed wound of family secrets until the hidden blood flows. Dwelling in the condition of woundedness without reveling in it both exiles Crews and his writer characters such as Joe Bass from community and inspires their creative activity, which is itself construed as burdensome. One of the leading indicators of Southernness remains a sense of place, but the best scholarship on Southern literature and Southern writers themselves, such as Thomas Wolfe and Eudora Welty, have long recognized how place in the South is often a state of flux. Blood Issue, despite its evocation of an extremely traditional, local southwest Georgia community like the one where Crews grew up in Bacon County, accords with the decades-old instability of this trope of Southern literature in Joe Bass’s vexed relationship to his home place. In “Why I Live Where I Live,” Crews offers an apologia for living near Gainesville, where he taught at the University of Florida for more than thirty years. Living in north Florida enables him to be sufficiently near to his origins in...


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pp. 271-287
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