Burning Memoirs, brilliant first novel by Harry Crews reprinted


Harry’s stepfather disappeared for days at a time. When he resurfaces, he is usually in a bad mood. Harry’s mother bore the brunt of her drunken rages. He eventually went too far, firing a shotgun blast inside their home. That’s when they packed up and she left him, taking Harry to Florida where she found a job rolling cigars.

“The Gospel Singer” (1968) was the debut of a writer with an unbridled imagination and an excruciatingly macabre sense of humor. The title gospel singer, whose name we never know, grew up in a dead-end rural town in Georgia called Enigma.

The place is buzzing. The gospel singer returns to perform. At the Mary-Bell Carter funeral home, the woman who was engaged to the gospel singer, lies in state. The funeral director had quite the task of concealing his sixty-one ice picks.

At the prison, Willalee Bookatee Hull, a black preacher, looks out of his cell window. He is accused of raping and killing Mary-Bell. He also understands the likelihood of him ever being judged. He intuitively knows that a lynch mob of local citizens have their own notions of crude justice.

The gospel singer’s agent, Didymus, is a religious fanatic who believes in the power of suffering. The gospel singer is handsome, charismatic and has a beautiful voice. He is also totally immoral and addicted to sex. Whenever he seduces a woman, Didyme insists that he do penance by going into a closet and singing hymns to himself.

Then there’s Foot, the freak show owner who follows the gospel singer. The foot has the largest foot in the world. The crowds who came to hear the gospel sing then stayed for the Freak Fair. This first novel seethes and burns with exuberant brilliance.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews the authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at [email protected].


“The Gospel Singer” by Harry Crews (Penguin Classics, 210 pages, $17)

Credit: Contribution

"The gospel singer" by Harry Crews (Penguin Classics, 210 pages, $17)

Credit: Contribution

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“The Gospel Singer” by Harry Crews (Penguin Classics, 210 pages, $17)

Credit: Contribution

Credit: Contribution


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