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Jim Harrison Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: James Thomas Harrison in Grayling, Michigan, 1937. Education: Michigan State University, East Lansing, B.A. in comparative literature 1960, M.A. in comparative literature 1964. Family: Married Linda King in 1959; two daughters. Career: Assistant professor of English, State University of New York, Stony Brook, 1965-66. Lives in Michigan. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1967, 1968, 1969; Guggenheim fellowship, 1969. Agent: Robert Datilla, 233 East 8th Street, New York, New York 10028.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Wolf. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1971; London, Flamingo, 1993.

A Good Day to Die. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1973; London, Flamingo, 1993.

Farmer. New York, Viking Press, 1976; London, Flamingo, 1993.

Legends of the Fall (novellas). New York, Delacorte Press, 1979;London, Collins, 1980.

Warlock. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Collins, 1981.

Sundog: The story of an American foreman, Robert Corvus Strang, as told to Jim Harrison. New York, Dutton, 1984; London, Heinemann, 1985.

Dalva. New York, Dutton, 1988; London, Cape, 1989.

The Woman Lit by Fireflies (three novellas). Boston, HoughtonMifflin, 1990; London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991.

Julip. Boston, Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, and London, Flamingo, 1994.

The Road Home. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.

The Beast God Forgot to Invent: Novellas. New York, AtlanticMonthly Press, 2000.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Dalva: How It Happened to Me," in Esquire (New York), April1988.

Poetry

Plain Song. New York, Norton, 1965.

Locations. New York, Norton, 1968.

Walking. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pym Randall Press, 1969.

Outlyer and Ghazals. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1971.

Letters to Yesenin. Fremont, Michigan, Sumac Press, 1973.

Returning to Earth. Ithaca, New York, Ithaca House, 1977.

Selected and New Poems 1961-1981. New York, Delacorte Press, 1982.

The Theory and Practice of Rivers. Seattle, Winn, 1986.

The Theory and Practice of Rivers and New Poems. Livingston, Montana, Clark City Press, 1989.

After Ikky'u and Other Poems. Boston, Shambhala, 1996.

The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1998.

Other

Natural World, with Diana Guest. Barrytown, New York, OpenBook, 1983.

Just Before Dark: Collected Nonfiction. Livingston, Montana, ClarkCity Press, 1991.

Wolf (screenplay, with Wesley Strick). Columbia Pictures, 1994.

The Boy Who Ran into the Woods. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.

*

Film Adaptations:

Legends of the Fall, 1994.

Critical Studies:

Jim Harrison by Edward C. Reilly. New York, Twayne Publishers, London, Prentice Hall, 1996.

* * *

A reviewer for the Times observed that Jim Harrison is "a writer with immortality in him." Archivist Bernard Fontana, of the University of Arizona, has expressed his belief in the quality of Harrison's work in another way: "To read Jim Harrison is to be tattooed." Harrison's early reputation was founded on four volumes of poetry. In 1971, his first novel, Wolf, was published. Wolf is the story of one man's quest for identity and freedom through the primal levels of nature and sex. The novel's themes and northern Michigan location drew critical comparisons to Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories.

Two years after Wolf, A Good Day to Die appeared as a statement about the decline of America's ecological systems. In a blending of Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, readers are presented with three characters who are launched on a cross-country trek to blow up a dam and rescue the Grand Canyon. A modern day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and an earthy Becky Thatcher are faced with the bankruptcy of the American dream. The novel also illustrates the author's fascination with Native Americans and begins a thematic interest that is found in other novels.

Farmer is a Lolita-like account of a country school teacher coming to grips with middle age while caught between two love affairs—one with a nymphet student and the other with a widowed co-worker who was his childhood sweetheart.

Harrison's first three novels resulted in many attacks by critics who saw him as a stereotype of the Hemingway myth: a writer obsessed with the macho male activities of hunting, drinking, and manly sex. In later novels Harrison would confront these criticisms head-on.

After Farmer, Harrison entered into an unusual contract with the actor Jack Nicolson. For $15, 000 in advance of writing and publication, Nicholson purchased half the film rights to Harrison's yet-to-be-written project. Harrison produced three novellas which were published in book form under the title of Legends of the Fall. The first novella, "Revenge," is the story of a love affair between Cochran; an ex-fighter pilot; and Miryea, the wife of a Mexican gangster. "The Man Who Gave Up His Name" chronicles Nordstrom's divorce, his run-ins with the New York underworld and his attempt to form a new life built around a new identity. Legends of the Fall is an epic story that spans fifty years and tells the tale of William Ludlow and his three sons. The story is filled with beautiful characterizations and with great action from its beginning, when the brothers ride out to Calgary to join the Canadian army and fight in World War I; to its end, when Ludlow confronts Irish bootleggers who have come to kill one of his sons.

Published in 1981, Warlock parodies nearly everything for which critics had taken Harrison to task. Johnny Lundgren, a.k.a. Warlock, becomes a private detective after he loses his job as a foundation executive. Unable to handle women, earn the devotion of his dog or remember to load his pistol, he bumbles through a series of adventures on the behalf of a deranged physician. Sundog, subtitled "The story of an American foreman, Robert Corvus Strang, as told to Jim Harrison," is a piece of fiction presented as a true tale. Strang recounts the story of his life, his several marriages and children, dozens of lovers, and his work on giant construction projects around the world.

Dalva, which was published in 1988, contains two stories: a tale of a middle-aged women's search for her out-of-wedlock child as well as her tribulations with her almost-boyfriend professor; and a story of her pioneer ancestor, an Andersonville survivor and naturalist whose diaries vividly tell of the destruction of the Plains Indian way of life by Anglo invasion.

The Woman Lit by Fireflies is a collection of three novellas. The first, "Brown Dog" is the comic memoir of an ex-Bible college student who loves to eat, drink, and chase women and his discovery of an Indian chief submerged in Lake Superior. "Sunset Limited" concerns a group of 1960s radicals who reunite to rescue an old friend held in a Mexican jail. "The Woman Lit by Fireflies" is the story of a woman who walks away from her husband at an Interstate Welcome Center near Davenport, Iowa and is a tale of transfiguration and discovery.

A complex work that recalls aspects of Dalva—not least by bringing in characters related to those in the earlier novel—The Road Home uses several narrators, takes place over wide stretches of time, and emphasizes the interdependent quality of all life. One of the central figures is John Wesley Northridge II, Dalva's grandfather, who is told by his granddaughter, "When you tell me stories about your life, why do you always pretend you were such a nice person? … Everyone in town says you were the scariest man in the county …. So I wish you wouldn't just tell the good parts about yourself." The novel, as it unfolds, reveals much more than just the "good parts," and does so with Harrison's usual masterful touch.

—Tom Colonnese

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