Since the publication of “Blood, Bone and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews” in May, I’ve heard from dozens of people who knew Harry personally. I’ve heard funny stories, sad stories, and some clearly made-up stories. Though I wish I had heard them all a few years ago while I was in full research mode, it’s been great to listen to these fresh stories from new voices, people who passed through Harry’s life at one point or another.
Stories are great, but real, live documents are even better. I was lucky enough to receive a few in the mail this week. One of Harry’s college roommates, Don, heard about “Blood, Bone and Marrow” and got in touch with me to correct some misspellings, and to tell me a little more about Harry’s life at the University of Florida in the late ’50s. Don had a lot to say, and after we spoke he called another friend from back in the day, which led to a call to Tanya, yet another friend of Harry’s. Tanya mentioned that she had a few letters that Harry had written to her while he was on his legendary 1 ½-year motorcycle trip across North America.
As you would imagine, I was excited to see the letters, which Tanya was kind enough to send to me. Harry was 23 at the time, on a self-imposed hiatus from college. He kept a diary of his road trip, which I’ve never been able to locate, so these letters are the sole writings I know of from this portion of Harry’s life. In fact, these may be Harry’s oldest writing in existence. I plan to speak with Harry’s college friends in greater detail to add context to my understanding, but from a quick reading they show that Harry’s dark outlook on human existence was already in full flower. He even put an existential twist on the very act of letter writing itself:
“Why this feverish letter writing jag? Why are we sending mail around the world? You know that bit about drowning people grasping at straws or some Goddamn thing? Well I think that is our predicament. We are drowning in isolation. Cut off from being other places or some other body and these letters are our feeble, typically human attempt to span the abyss.”
I plan to write more about these letters soon. And I’ll be waiting to see what other voices from the past show up in the mailbox…