December 11, 1937 |
|Occupation||Novelist, poet, essayist|
|Genre||Fiction, non-fiction, poetry|
James "Jim" Harrison (born December 11, 1937) is an American author known for his poetry, fiction, reviews, essays about the outdoors, and writings about food. He has been called "a force of nature", and his work has been compared to that of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. 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.
Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers.
He became blind in one eye after a childhood accident ("My left eye is blind and jogs like/a milky sparrow in its socket"). He is a 1956 graduate of Haslett High School, Haslett, Michigan. When he was 21, his father and sister died in an automobile accident.
In 1959, he married Linda King, with whom he has 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 State University of New York, Stony Brook (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, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2007).
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 lives in both Patagonia, Arizona, and Livingston, Montana. 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.
Though famous for fiction, Harrison identifies first and foremost as a poet. In the Introduction to The Shape of the Journey (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 suffuses everything Harrison writes. "It’s totally uncontrollable," he says. "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." 
Harrison has been 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 through Wordsworth. His most recent collection of poetry is Songs of Unreason (Copper Canyon Press, 2011). In it he 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.
Harrison became a novelist after he fell off a cliff while bird hunting. During his convalescence, his friend Thomas McGuane suggested he write a novel. 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. Harrison sold his film rights for all three stories in the book; he became involved in writing the screenplay for the film based on Legends of the Fall. It was directed by Edward Zwick and starred Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Aidan Quinn; it won an Academy Award for cinematography. Jim Harrison has 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; and Wolf (1994), starring Jack Nicholson. All the while he has continued to publish fiction and poetry. Four more collections of novellas (The Woman Lit by Fireflies (1990), Julip (1994), The Beast God Forgot to Invent (2000) and The Summer He Didn’t Die (2005)) have followed.
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.
Harrison’s next two novels are set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. True North (2004) 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.
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, which contains more than 1600 citations of writing by and about Harrison. Many of Harrison’s papers are housed at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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."
- Wolf: A False Memoir (1971)
- A Good Day to Die (1973)
- Farmer (1976)
- Legends of the Fall (Three novellas: "Revenge," "The Man Who Gave Up His Name," and "Legends of the Fall") (1979)
- Warlock (1981)
- Sundog: The Story of an American Foreman, Robert Corvus Strang (1984)
- Dalva (1988)
- 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 Road Home (1998)
- The Beast God Forgot to Invent (Three novellas: "The Beast God Forgot to Invent," "Westward Ho," and "I Forgot to Go to Spain") (2000)
- True North (2004)
- The Summer He Didn't Die (Three novellas: "The Summer He Didn't Die," "Republican Wives," and "Tracking") (2005)
- Returning To Earth (2007)
- The English Major (2008)
- The Farmer's Daughter (Three novellas: "The Farmer's Daughter," "Brown Dog Redux," and "The Games of Night") (2009)
- The Great Leader (2011)
- The River Swimmer (Two novellas: "The Land of Unlikeness" and "The River Swimmer") (2013)
- Brown Dog (2013)
- The Big Seven (2015)
- 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)
- The Boy Who Ran to the Woods (Illustrated by Tom Pohrt) (2000)
- 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, 2015)
- ""Returning to Earth" – In grief, giving family wings". The Seattle Times. January 5, 2007.
- "Jim Harrison Biography". jrank.org. Net Industries. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- The Bloomsbury Review, January/February 1999
- Sketch for a Job-Application Blank
- Harrison, Jim. "Searchers by Jim Harrison | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor". Writersalmanac.publicradio.org. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- Alter, Alexandra (2009-07-10). "Indoors With a Poet of the Outdoors". Wallstreet Journal Online. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
- "Episodes : Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations". Travel Channel. 2011-02-28. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- "Big Sky … Thick Jungle … Zero Tolerance (and Diane Saves The Day) « Anthony Bourdain". Anthony-bourdain-blog.travelchannel.com. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- Book, October/November 1998
- "Five Points". Webdelsol.com. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- "67th Academy Awards Winners | Oscar Legacy | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". Oscars.org. 1995-03-27. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- Phipps, T.W. "Image matters to Jim Harrison", Book, Oct/Nov 1998
- McGrath, Charles (January 25, 2007). "Pleasures of the Hard-Worn Life". The New York Times.
- "Jim Harrison - University of Nebraska Press". Nebraskapress.unl.edu. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- ""Entretien avec Jim Harrison" – Interview with Jim Harrison". L'Express, article in French previously published in its literary brand "Lire Magazine". October 1, 2004.
- Works by or about Jim Harrison in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Jim Fergus (Summer 1988). "Jim Harrison, The Art of Fiction No. 104". The Paris Review.
- Jim Harrison Papers at Grand Valley State University
- Jim Harrison Photos by Mathieu Bourgois
- Mary Harrison Dumsch Papers at Grand Valley State University
- Robert DeMott Papers at Grand Valley State University
- "Pleasures of the Hard-Worn Life" New York Times article by Charles McGrath (includes video)
- "The Last Lion" Outside Magazine, October 2011
- Review of The Summer He Didn't Die in Narrative Magazine, (Fall 2005).