Harry Eugene Crews, a quintessential southerner, uses his experiences to portray an American South that is both bizarre and tragicomic. Born during the Depression, as a child Crews experienced poverty that informed and shaped his later work. As he chronicled in his autobiography A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, Crews was born in 1935 on a tiny farm in rural Georgia. His father was an unsuccessful farmer who died when Harry was just two years old. Crews’s mother remarried; unfortunately, Harry’s stepfather was equally unsuccessful as a farmer and abused alcohol as well. Crews’s stepfather was also cruel and violent toward Harry, his brother, and his mother.
Poverty, combined with fear and violence, could scar any child emotionally, but Harry Crews suffered two more childhood traumas. He was stricken with a bizarre illness that caused his leg muscles to contract into a painful and unnatural angle, rendering him unable to walk for six months. Then, while playing with some other children near a huge vat of boiling water used to sear the skin off freshly slaughtered hogs, Crews slipped and fell into the bubbling water. His well-meaning family wrapped him in a sheet to get him to the doctor, and when the sheet was removed most of his skin came off with it. These events, combined with his family life, greatly informed his later work, infusing it with the tragedy and pathos indelibly etched into his psyche.
Crews left the small...
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