For me it was Just Before Dark, The Woman Lit By Fireflies, and the poetry. I wrote this in 2010 and will let it stand today:
Perhaps some day I will be able to write the piece that adequately explains the debt I owe Jim Harrison. For now, it is enough to say that when I read Just Before Dark sometime around 1995, it blew my writing to bits. How clearly I remember sitting in the old green chair on Main Street in New Auburn, reading and reading and reading and marking and making notes and then reading everything else he had written to that point, and hungrily attempting to apply everything I was learning to my own constrained typing. And the stuff I wrote after reading Harrison was different. Different enough that it finally caught someone’s eye somewhere, and now five books later every time I hear Harrison’s name I tend to babble on, but it’s a heartfelt babble.
The man has a reputation as a nettlesome handful. Watch the video* and you will draw your own conclusions regarding the nature of his mileage. These things are irrelevant to me. We have never spoken. Never been anywhere near each other**, far as I know. Although I believe we were in Jackson, Mississippi, on overlapping nights. I was offered the opportunity to meet him then. I declined. Couldn’t imagine what I’d say that would amount to anything more than useless pudding. I don’t regret the decision. It is his work, you see. It broke something loose in me. If I can’t express it clearly here, I can’t imagine how I would explain it to him.
If you decide to watch the clip, note what he says from 5:08 to 5:40. I think of my mother surrounding me with books, I think of my father taking us to the farm, I think of the blind luck chance that dropped me into this…and I hope he feels my gratitude somewhere in the air.
*That’s not the video from the original post so the time stamp references mentioned later don’t apply. Original video here in case it becomes unblocked.
**I did wind up within a few feet of him at a literary event in Chicago. There was a crush, and I felt as I did when I had a chance to meet Steve Earle–my nervous prattle would neither stand out nor convey my heart and soul. In the case of Harrison, I settled for a brief letter and a handwritten note of thanks. His reply fuels me to this day.
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