Jim Carroll was born in New York City on August 1, 1951. When he was growing up on the tough streets of Manhattan, Carroll pursued careers as a basketball player and writer. While Carroll’s massive drug use as a teenager extinguished any hope of his becoming a basketball star, his poetry about these drug experiences put him on the road to literary stardom. After the publication of his first two poetry collections, Organic Trains (1967) and Four Ups and One Down (1970), Carroll’s poetry was relatively unknown outside underground circles. That changed with the publication of his third poetry collection, Living at the Movies (1973). By this time, Carroll was also making a name for himself with his autobiographical prose writing, which had begun appearing in various literary magazines in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In 1978, these disjointed prose writings were collected in one limited-edition volume, entitled The Basketball Diaries, which was reprinted in larger numbers in 1980. The book established Carroll’s literary career and gave him name recognition that he translated to success in other areas. The most notable of these was Carroll’s music career. Patti Smith, one of Carroll’s former girlfriends, encouraged him to make the transition from poet to rock musician, as she had done. In 1980, the same year that The Basketball Diaries went into wide distribution, the Jim Carroll Band released its first album, Catholic Boy, which featured the hit single, ‘‘People Who Died.’’ The song, which lists Carroll’s many friends who died from murder, suicide, drug overdose, and other unnatural causes, is generally acknowledged as the high point of Carroll’s musical career. In 1995, ‘‘People Who Died’’—along with several other songs by Carroll or his band—was included on the soundtrack of the film adaptation of The Basketball Diaries.
During the 1980s, Carroll released another poetry collection, The Book of Nods (1986), and his second collection of diaries, Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries (1987). Neither of these books was as successful as The Basketball Diaries, which continued to be Carroll’s best-known work. In 1992, Carroll released a spoken-word musical recording entitled Praying Mantis, and in 1999 he published a nonfiction book entitled Permissive Bargaining and Congressional Intent: A Special Report.
Besides these two works, most of Carroll’s publications after the 1980s were poetry collections. These include Fear of Dreaming: The Selected Poems of Jim Carroll (1993) and Void of Course: Poems 1994–1997 (1998). Carroll lives and works in New York City, where, as of 2002, he is working on his first novel.
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