Jim Harrison

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For other people named Jim Harrison, see Jim Harrison (disambiguation).
Jim Harrison (Writer)
Born James Harrison
(1937-12-11)December 11, 1937
Grayling, Michigan, U.S.
Died March 26, 2016(2016-03-26) (aged 78)
Patagonia, Arizona, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, poet, essayist
Alma mater Michigan State University, B.A. 1960, M.A. 1964
Genre Fiction, non-fiction, poetry
Spouse Linda King Harrison (d. October 2, 2015)
Children 2 daughters: Jamie Potenberg and Anna Hjortsberg

James "Jim" Harrison (December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016) was an American author known for his poetry, fiction, reviews, essays about the outdoors, and writings about food. He is best known for his 1979 novella Legends of the Fall. He has been called "a force of nature",[1] and his work has been compared to that of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.[2] Harrison's characters tend to be rural by birth and to have retained some qualities of their agrarian pioneer heritage in spite of their intelligence and some formal education. They attune themselves to both the natural and the civilized world, surrounded by excesses but determined to live their lives as well as possible.[3]

Biography[edit]

Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers.[4] Harrison was born 18 months after oldest child John, with whom Jim was close. Jim's younger siblings are Judith and then Mary and David. He became blind in one eye after a childhood accident ("My left eye is blind and jogs like/a milky sparrow in its socket").[5][6] Harrison graduated from Haslett High School (Haslett, Michigan) in 1956. When he was 21, his father and sister, Judy, died in an automobile accident.

In 1959, he married Linda King, with whom he had two daughters. He was educated at Michigan State University, where he received a B.A. (1960) and M.A. (1964) in comparative literature. After a short stint as assistant professor of English at Stony Brook University (1965–66), Harrison started working full-time as a writer. His awards include National Academy of Arts grants (1967, 1968, and 1969), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1969–70), the Spirit of the West Award from the Mountain & Plains Booksellers Association, [7] and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2007).[8]

His work has appeared in many leading publications, including The New Yorker, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Outside, Playboy, Men's Journal, and The New York Times Book Review. He has published several collections of novellas, two of which were eventually turned into films: Revenge (1990) and Legends of the Fall (1994).

Much of Harrison's writing is set in sparsely populated regions of North America and its West. Many stories are set in places such as Nebraska's Sand Hills, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Montana's mountains, and along the Arizona–Mexico border.

Harrison lived in both Patagonia, Arizona, and Livingston, Montana.[9] On August 31, 2009, he was featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain's television show No Reservations, which took place in and around Livingston.[10][11] He also appeared during season 7 of Bourdain's CNN series, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, in an episode which first aired on May 15th, 2016.

Harrison died of a heart attack on March 26, 2016.[12]

Literary works[edit]

Early career[edit]

Harrison said he became a novelist after he fell off a cliff while bird hunting. During his convalescence, his friend Thomas McGuane suggested he write a novel, and Wolf: A False Memoir (1971) was the result. It is the story of a man who tells his life story while searching for signs of a wolf in the northern Michigan wilderness. This was followed by A Good Day to Die (1973), an ecotage novel and statement about the decline of American ecological systems; and Farmer (1976), a Lolita-like account of a country school teacher and farmer coming to grips with middle age, his mother’s dying, and complications of human sexuality.

Harrison’s first novellas were published in 1979 under the title Legends of the Fall. The title novella is an epic story that spans fifty years and tells the tale of a father and three sons in the vast spaces of the northern Rocky Mountains around the time of World War I. The novella format would become an important part of both Harrison's future reputation and his output. Following Legends of the Fall, seven (7) more collections of novellas would appear over the course of Harrison's lifetime: The Woman Lit by Fireflies (1990), Julip (1994), The Beast God Forgot to Invent (2000), The Summer He Didn’t Die (2005), The Farmer's Daughter (2009), The River Swimmer (2013), and finally The Ancient Minstrel (2016), the latter appearing just before Harrison's death in March of that year.

After publishing Warlock (1981) and Sundog (1984), Harrison published Dalva (1988), one of his best-known novels. It is a complex tale, set in rural Nebraska, of a woman’s search for the son she had given up for adoption and for the boy’s father, who also happened to be her half-brother. Throughout the narrative, Dalva invokes the memory of her pioneer great-grandfather John Wesley Northridge, an Andersonville survivor during the Civil War and naturalist, whose diaries vividly tell of the destruction of the Plains Indian way of life. Many of these characters are featured also in The Road Home (1998), a complex work using five narrators, including Dalva, her 30-year-old son Nelse, and her grandfather John Wesley Northridge II. Harrison has been described as trying to get at "the soul history of where you live" in this sequel to Dalva, in this case rural Nebraska in the latter half of the 20th century.[13]

By the time Harrison turned sixty years of age in 1998, he had published both a dozen works of fiction and another dozen volumes of poetry.

Later life and writings[edit]

In terms of his publishing career, Harrison's final eighteen years, after he turned sixty, would be nearly as productive as the preceding 30 years. After age sixty, he would publish another dozen works of fiction, at least six more volumes of poetry, a memoir Off to the Side, and The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmet, a collection of his food essays which had first appeared in magazines, mostly in Esquire and Men's Journal.

Although he continued writing in the novella format, during these final years (1999-2016), Harrison would refocus his efforts on the longer novel form. In the 2000s, Harrison published two of the most ambitious novels, setting them in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: True North (2004) and its sequel Returning to Earth (2007). True North examines the costs to a timber and mining family torn apart by alcoholism and the moral recklessness of a war-damaged father. The novel contains two stories: that of the monstrous father and that of the son’s trying to atone for his father’s evil and, ultimately, reconciling with his family’s history.

Returning to Earth (2007) revisits the characters and setting of True North (2004) thirty years later. The story has four narrators: Donald, a mixed-blood Indian, now middle-aged and dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease; Donald’s wife Cynthia, whom he rescued as a teen from the ruins of her family; Cynthia’s brother David (the central character of True North); and K, Cynthia's nephew and Donald’s soul mate. Ultimately, the extended family helps Donald end his life at the place of his choosing, and then draw on the powers of love and commitment to reconcile loss and heal wounds borne for generations.

Harrison’s The English Major (2008), is a road novel about a 60-year-old former high school English teacher and farmer from Michigan who, after a divorce and the sale of his farm, heads westward on a mind-clearing road trip. Along the way he falls into an affair with a former student, reconnects with his big-shot son in San Francisco, confers on questions of life and lust with an old doctor friend, and undertakes a project to rename all the states and their state birds.[14]

Harrison wrote two darkly comic detective novels, The Great Leader: A Faux Mystery (Grove Press, 2012) and The Big Seven (Grove Press, 2015), both focused on protagonist Detective Sunderson. The Great Leader: A Faux Mystery was positively reviewed in The New York Times, with critic Pete Dexter calling Harrison's writing "very close to magic."[15]

In 2009, University of Nebraska Press published Jim Harrison: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1964-2008, an illustrated guide to Harrison’s published works, edited by Gregg Orr and Beef Torrey, with an introduction by Robert DeMott, which contains more than 1600 citations of writing by and about Harrison.[16] Many of Harrison’s papers are housed at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.[2]

Harrison was interviewed in 2004 in Paris by François Busnel and asked how he explained the success of his novel, "True North" in the United States where his previous books were not successful. Harrison replied, "The age, undoubtedly! Or a proof that America loves France, since it is said often over there that I am the most French of the American writers."[17]

Many of Harrison's interviews between 1976 and 1999 are collected in the book, Conversations with Jim Harrison, edited by Robert DeMott, published by the University Press of Mississippi, 2002.[18]

Film work[edit]

Harrison's work on films and in the screenplay format began with his book Legends of the Fall, when he sold the film rights for all three stories in the book and became involved in writing the screenplay for the film with the same title. It was directed by Edward Zwick and starred Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Aidan Quinn; it won the 1995 Academy Award for cinematography.[19] Jim Harrison had a writing credit for the film.

Other films he has scripted or co-written include Cold Feet (1989), with Keith Carradine, Tom Waits and Rip Torn; Revenge (1990), starring Kevin Costner. For his work on the screenplay for Wolf (1994, starring Jack Nicholson) Harrison, along with co-writer Wesley Strick, shared the Saturn Award for Best Writing.

Influences[edit]

Though famous for fiction, Harrison identified first and foremost as a poet and that would shape all of his work during a five decade long writing career, beginning in 1965 with the publication of his first book, a collection of poetry. In the Introduction to The Shape of the Journey[20] (Copper Canyon Press, 1998), a collection drawn from his first eight books of poetry, he writes:

"This book is the portion of my life that means the most to me....in poetry our motives are utterly similar to those who made cave paintings or petroglyphs, so that studying your own work of the past is to ruminate over artifacts, each one a signal, a remnant of a knot of perceptions that brings back to life who and what you were at that time, the past texture of what has to be termed as your ‘soul life.’" Poetry suffused everything Harrison wrote. "It’s totally uncontrollable," he said. "You don’t have any idea when its going to emerge, and when it’s not going to emerge. I’ve never stopped writing it....You can put off a novel for a while but you can’t not write a poem because that particular muse is not very cooperative." [21]

In his own work. Harrison was influenced by predecessors as diverse as the Russian modernist Sergei Yesenin (Letters to Yesenin, 1973), Zen literary traditions (After Ikkyu and Other Poems, 1996), and the American-English traditions of nature-writing (Saving Daylight, 2006), leading back to Wordsworth. In his 2011 collection of poetry is Songs of Unreason[22] (Copper Canyon Press, 2011) Harrison uses interconnected suites, brief lyrics, and rollicking narratives to explore what it means to inhabit the world in atavistic, primitive, and totemistic ways. Harrison discusses his poetry in an extensive interview in Five Points Magazine.[23] In January 2016 he published his final collection of poetry, Dead Man's Float.

Bibliography[edit]

Fiction[edit]

Novels[edit]

  • Wolf: A False Memoir (1971)
  • A Good Day to Die (1973)
  • Farmer (1976)
  • Warlock (1981)
  • Sundog: The Story of an American Foreman, Robert Corvus Strang (1984)
  • Dalva (1988)
  • The Road Home (1998)
  • True North (2004)
  • Returning To Earth (2007)
  • The English Major (2008)
  • The Great Leader (2011)
  • Brown Dog (2013) – (gathers the five novellas published about the character 'Brown Dog' and adds a new one as a coda)[[24]
  • The Big Seven (2015)

Novella trilogies[edit]

NOTE: the exception here being The River Swimmer (listed below) which is not a trilogy; note that Brown Dog (listed above) is an anthology of all the "Brown Dog" novellas

  • Legends of the Fall (Three novellas: "Revenge," "The Man Who Gave Up His Name," and "Legends of the Fall") (1979)
  • The Woman Lit By Fireflies (Three novellas: "Brown Dog," "Sunset Limited," and "The Woman Lit by Fireflies") (1990)
  • Julip (Three novellas: "Julip," "The Seven-Ounce Man," and "The Beige Dolorosa") (1994)
  • The Beast God Forgot to Invent (Three novellas: "The Beast God Forgot to Invent," "Westward Ho," and "I Forgot to Go to Spain") (2000)
  • The Summer He Didn't Die (Three novellas: "The Summer He Didn't Die," "Republican Wives," and "Tracking") (2005)
  • The Farmer's Daughter (Three novellas: "The Farmer's Daughter," "Brown Dog Redux," and "The Games of Night") (2009)
  • The River Swimmer (Two novellas: "The Land of Unlikeness" and "The River Swimmer") (2013)
  • The Ancient Minstrel (Three novellas: "The Ancient Minstrel," "Eggs," and "The Case of the Howling Buddhas") (2016)

Nonfiction[edit]

  • Just Before Dark: Collected Nonfiction (1991)
  • The Raw and the Cooked (1992) Dim Gray Bar Press ltd ed
  • The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand' (2001)
  • Off to the Side: A Memoir (2002)

Children's literature[edit]

  • The Boy Who Ran to the Woods (Illustrated by Tom Pohrt) (2000)

Poetry[edit]

  • Plain Song (1965)
  • Walking (1967)
  • Locations (1968)
  • Outlyer and Ghazals (1971)
  • Letters to Yesenin (1973)
  • Returning to Earth (Court Street Chapbook Series) (1977)
  • Selected and New Poems, 1961-1981 (Drawings by Russell Chatham) (1981)
  • Natural World: A Bestiary (1982)
  • The Theory & Practice of Rivers (1986)
  • The Theory & Practice of Rivers and New Poems (1989)
  • After Ikkyu and Other Poems (1996)
  • The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
  • Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry (with Ted Kooser) (Copper Canyon Press, 2003)
  • Livingston Suite (Illustrated by Greg Keeler) (2005)
  • Saving Daylight (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
  • In Search of Small Gods (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
  • Songs of Unreason (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)
  • Dead Man's Float (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)

Filmography[edit]

Writer[edit]

Producer[edit]

  • Wolf (1994)

Self[edit]

  • Here is Something Beautiful (announced)
  • La grande librairie (2009-2015)
  • Café littéraire (2010)
  • The Practice of the Wild (2010)
  • Amérique, notre histoire (2006)
  • Le cercle de minuit (1995)

References[edit]

  1. ^ ""Returning to Earth" – In grief, giving family wings". The Seattle Times. January 5, 2007. 
  2. ^ a b "Jim Harrison Biography". jrank.org. Net Industries. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  3. ^ The Bloomsbury Review, January/February 1999
  4. ^ Harrison, Jim; DeMott, Robert J. (2002). Conversations with Jim Harrison. Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-57806-456-4.  page xxi.
  5. ^ Sketch for a Job-Application Blank
  6. ^ Harrison, Jim. "Searchers by Jim Harrison | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor". Writersalmanac.publicradio.org. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  7. ^ Reading the West Book Awards
  8. ^ "Jim Harrison, author of ‘Legends of the Fall’ and other books, dies at 78" washingtonpost.com
  9. ^ Alter, Alexandra (July 10, 2009). "Indoors With a Poet of the Outdoors". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 13, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Episodes : Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations". Travel Channel. February 28, 2011. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Big Sky … Thick Jungle … Zero Tolerance (and Diane Saves The Day) « Anthony Bourdain". Anthony-bourdain-blog.travelchannel.com. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  12. ^ Jim Harrison, Poet, Novelist and Essayist, Is Dead at 78 nytimes.com
  13. ^ Phipps, T.W. "Image matters to Jim Harrison", Book, Oct/Nov 1998
  14. ^ McGrath, Charles (January 25, 2007). "Pleasures of the Hard-Worn Life". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Dexter, Pete (September 30, 2011). "Jim Harrison Stalks a Cult Leader". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Jim Harrison - University of Nebraska Press". Nebraskapress.unl.edu. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  17. ^ ""Entretien avec Jim Harrison" – Interview with Jim Harrison". L'Express, article in French previously published in its literary brand "Lire Magazine". October 1, 2004. 
  18. ^ http://www.amazon.com/Conversations-Jim-Harrison-Literary/dp/1578064562
  19. ^ "67th Academy Awards Winners | Oscar Legacy | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". Oscars.org. March 27, 1995. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  20. ^ Coppercanyonpress.org
  21. ^ Book, October/November 1998
  22. ^ Coppercanyonpress.org
  23. ^ "Five Points". Webdelsol.com. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  24. ^ Ulin, David L. (2013) "In Jim Harrison's 'Brown Dog,' novellas trace the arc of a life" latimes.com

External links[edit]