By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
As you can see, Harris is his own quirky but intellectually honest man. Like Henry David Thoreau, one of his literary heroes, Harris walks to the beat of his own drum.
Despite his willingness to speak his mind on all things, Bang the Drum Slowly was Harris' last great commercial success. He has never been constricted by writer's block. Despite that he has continued writing steadily ever since, there has been no blockbuster. He is no Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton and would be insulted if you thought he wanted to be. Harris has written eight more novels and produced a steady stream of nonfiction, several screenplays and a considerable number of articles and book reviews for publications all across the country, ranging from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated, Life, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.
For much of his adult life, Harris, who earned a doctorate in American Studies, has been a teacher of creative writing. He has taught many places, including San Francisco State, Purdue, the University of Southern California and the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1980, Harris has been a professor of English at Arizona State, where he now devotes his time to teaching the art of writing to his students.
Much of what he feels about writing Harris has poured into his book reviews, assessing the work of contemporaries like Norman Mailer and William Saroyan, and looking at the baseball writing of Roger Angell. Harris has also written his own eccentric biography of Saul Bellow.
Harris approached Bellow, the Nobel Prize winner, after completing work on the Yale editions of the private papers of James Boswell, who over years penned the classic The Life of Samuel Johnson.
It was, Harris says, going to be a "vast, comprehensive, scholarly and most affectionate Life of Saul Bellow."
The only trouble was that Bellow would have none of it. So Bellow's resistance to Harris' biography became the theme and central action of the book titled Saul Bellow: Drumlin Woodchuck, which was promptly denounced upon publication by Bellow's literary allies. At least one of these critics might have been influenced because he was in the process of creating his own version of Bellow's life.
I asked Harris about the book and the reaction of the critics.
"I think Bellow has learned to live with it by now," Harris said of the book, published in 1980. He does not offer more.
Could it be that Harris came close to revealing himself when he wrote the following about Late Innings, by the New Yorker magazine's Angell:
"Hordes of writers have been very good briefly," Harris wrote in the New York Times Book Review. "Who was it who said ten thousand people in Greenwich Village can write one brilliant letter to the editor? The great task as one grows older is to keep the signs of weariness out, to conceal from one's enemies the fact of one's tiring. In that way, one might go on indefinitely."
Of the preoccupation of famous writers with themselves, Harris wrote this in reviewing a biography of Mailer:
"He [Mailer] imagined that since he had written the best novel of World War II he had necessarily been assigned to write the 'best' novel of the century. It never occurred to him that other talents than novel writing may have been the more useful tools of his vision. Mailer is basically man suffering, not thinking."
When we were finished talking, Harris took me inside the house to meet his wife, who had just returned from grocery shopping.
The former Josephine Horen, who once worked in Chicago as a wire-service reporter for the now-defunct International News Service, also holds a doctorate, hers in Psycholinguistics from Purdue University.
I asked whether she was excited about the opening of her husband's play at the Herberger.
She smiled knowingly.
"But I always worry about the reviews," she said.