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Monday, August 28, 2006

Man of the Moment - Jim Harrison

Dead Beat fills you in:

Jim Harrison's quest to become a writer brings to mind the trials and romantic aspirations of a Harrison protagonist. Born in Grayling, Michigan, in 1937, he sewed his connections to the land through hunting and fishing as a child. At age seven, a friend accidentally wounded him with a piece of glass that left him blinded in his left eye. Afterward, he became increasingly attentive to nature: "I'd turn for solace to rivers, rain, trees, birds, lakes, animals," he explained.In his mid-teens, Harrison determined to be a writer, and left home at nineteen to live the artistic life: "Our family had no money—there were five children—and I accumulated ninety dollars and my dad gave me a ride out to the highway. I had my favorite books and the typewriter he'd given me for my seventeenth birthday—one of those twenty-buck used typewriters—and my clothes, all in a cardboard box tied with a rope, and I was going off to life in 'Green-witch' Village. I was going to be a Bohemian!"

Harrison resided in stints on the eastern seaboard and in Michigan, earning bachelor's and master's degrees from Michigan State in 1960 and 1965. Also in 1960, he married Linda King. Writing short stories and poems all the while, he published his first volume of poetry, Plain Song, in 1965. A year of teaching at Stony Brook in New York convinced him he was "temperamentally unsuited" to the profession, as he has put it. Harrison, his wife, and their baby daughter (they would later have a second daughter) returned to Michigan in 1966, where Harrison scratched together a living for the family through freelance journalism and hand labor. Harrison's poetry caught the attention of major reviewers, such as M.L. Rosenthal, who declared, "This is poetry worth loving, hating, and fighting over."

He wrote his first novel, Wolf (1971), while laid up from a fall off a cliff while hunting. A few years down the road, distressed by the low sales of his lovely, lyrical third novel, Farmer (1976), Harrison lapsed into a clinical depression. (In a 1990 essay, "Midrange Road Kill," Harrison courageously recalls having had five such "whoppers.") Commercial success came with his trilogy Legends of the Fall (1979) and the sale of film rights to each novella. Just when one too many critics had pigeonholed Harrison for regional male tough-mindedness, he proved his larger talent by expanding his range of voices in Dalva (1988), a story of a woman of Sioux heritage searching for the son she gave up for adoption. Harrison continued conjuring up highly resonant female characters in his next two novella collections, The Woman Lit By Fireflies (1990) and Julip (1994). Michigan roots now deeply established, Harrison and his wife live on a farm in Leelanau County in the northern part of the state. To write, he often retreats to a remote cabin on the Upper Peninsula.

Both Jim and Linda Harrison share a passion for fine cooking, a subject he has written about for publications such as Esquire. Of the link between his art and cooking, Harrison explains: "I think it's all one piece. When you bear down that hard on one thing—on your fiction or your poetry—then you have to have something like cooking, bird hunting, or fishing that offers a commensurate and restorative joy."

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