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A Childhood: The Biography of a Place

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4.42 of 5 stars 4.42  ·  rating details  ·  685 ratings  ·  81 reviews
A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews' earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him--and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper's cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural South Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of grindi ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published October 1st 1995 by University of Georgia Press (first published 1978)
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Community Reviews

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Howard

When Harry Crews died in 2012, Elaine Woo in the Los Angeles Times wrote, “[t]he word ‘original’ only begins to describe Crews, whose 17 novels place him squarely in the Southern gothic tradition, also known as Grit Lit. He emerged from a grisly childhood in Georgia with a darkly comic vision that made him literary kin to William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Hunter S. Thompson, although he never achieved their broad recognition.”

In 1968, he began a long tenure on the University of Florida fac
...more
Jamie
Two parts Larry Brown, two parts Wendell Berry, two parts William Gay, two parts the kinds of places and people and stories I’ve had all my life.

This was so special to me. Life-giving, in a way. For all the stories and family histories I have heard, so much of it has been lost. So much of it I’ll never hear. This was like getting to find the pieces of it I might not otherwise, to borrow those shoes from someone else for a while and imagine my own people in them. That’s essentially what Harry Cre
...more
Bryant
There's that inexplicable feeling you get when reading old writing, the ancient stuff-- those musings penned by the old scribes who wrote not out of need for profit or notoriety, but to reckon, if only in glimpses, with the mystery that hums beneath the surface of existence, that binds us to the natural world and to each other in ways theretofore only felt deep down in the gut. It's the same feeling I get when reading Crews at his best. What more can be said of a writer? He's a storyteller of th ...more
Kirk Smith
When I was a child, my Grandfather often drove me by some tenants on one of his rural properties that he said made the Best Possum and Sweet Potatoes. Well some how we never quite visited at the right time and never got around to having dinner with them. I was pretty happy about it then and that will never change. But the Recipe for Possum is here in this book! There is also a lot of other farming knowledge about rendering hogs, or breeding mules.
It is rural wisdom passed along collectively by
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Josh
3 Points:

1) At a recent lecture by Clyde Edgerton, he explained to the audience how Southern writers have the advantage of a slew of outlandish stories from their immediate and peripheral lives from which to draw. It helps them in crafting work and words in a way that adds interest. Well, I got it when Edgerton said it, but there is no question this book illustrates the root of what he was explaining. By the time Crews was 10 years old, he had had enough "coming of age" to overshadow anything I
...more
Nancy Oakes
A Childhood: The Biography of a Place is one of those books I can honestly say is nearly perfect, at least to me. I know there are people who didn't care for it, and that's cool, but I loved it. I have written something about it at my online book journal, so I'll just offer a brief look here.

In the book's opening pages, author Harry Crews says that he has "never been certain of who I am," and that he's "slipped into and out of identities as easily as other people slip into and out of their clot
...more
Kathy
Nov 03, 2008 Kathy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: cracker-philiacs
Both my Mother and Father's people migrated to Georgia from South Carolina and then into Florida. My Mom was born just five years earlier than Harry Crews into a farming community, in Gilchrist County, Florida - much like the home that Crews describes in his "biography of a place". So, as I read, I felt that I was learning more about the folks whose blood runs through my veins, as well as about a fantastically interesting author, Mr. Crews.

The bulk of his story centers around the year that he wa
...more
Laura
The New York Times said this was the best memoir ever written, and I wanted to love it but I just couldn't. It was engrossing and vividly written, but there was so much gruesomely-detailed violence against children and animals that it was painful to read. It transformed all of my romantic ideas about idyllic life on a farm. The farm of Crews' childhood was a bloody, abusive place.
Carrie Schindele Cupples
There are so many amazing, memorable, filthy moments in this book that I don't know where to start. If you like to read Harry Crews, this book will feel even better than his fiction. It would be easy to focus the tale only on the events Crews lives through, but it is the local color of his family and neighbors that make this the richest story I've read in ages. I read the passage about slaughtering hogs and his mama making soap about ten times. My bet is that anyone who reads this will have favo ...more
Graham P
The problem with many auto-biographies are that they are too steeped in reflective meditation, or heightened with such drama that they are fueled by fiction and not by the realities buried in the past. Harry Crews, the controlled and comical son-of-a-bitch, avoids both missteps and just writes earnestly, with the flair of somebody born, worked over and educated by the land - in this case the deep south, Bacon County Georgia. Most important, Crews doesn't labor the reader with a year-by-year prog ...more
Richard Gilbert
I loved Crews's ability to write both from a boy's point of view and from his adult's. He grew up in south Georgia in a dirt-poor sharecropper family. Their poverty and ignorance were almost unbelievable. But their world also was full of love and magic, along with what you'd expect--alcoholism and domestic violence.

After Crews's father died, his brother divorced his wife and married Crews's mother, and was often a loving father to Crews and his brother, but he grew increasingly drunk and neglec
...more
Winter Branch
Whenever I think about rating this book I jump between a 4 and 5 star rating. Childhood is powerful and well written. It is an honest and sincere look at growing up in southern Georgia around the depression era. Yet, Crews does not try and recount every moment from his childhood. Instead, he traces around the holes left by memory to recount pieces of his youth as he remembers it or as it was told to him. Even though the book is littered with devastating and terrible situations, the true impact o ...more
wally
i no longer have my copy but i suspect it was this one. reading this one will give you an idea why harry crews writes as he does. born and raised in south georgia, poor, things happen. imagine falling into a scalding pot of water big enough to accept a dead hog, water so hot the hair of the hog falls off. and then being on display for all the people to see.

if you've never visited the south, never spent time there, or maybe you did but the only people you met were transplanted from other areas of
...more
Mike
I first read this book when I was in college. I loved it. When I read the other day that its author, Haary Crews, had died I decided to go into the attic and pull it out and read it again. I had some trepidation going into it. There have been other books in my life that I once thought were great but re-read many years later and found I didn't like them very much. I shouldn't have worried about this one. I still thought it was great. It paints a vivid portrait of life in the rural south during th ...more
Lambert
Loved it. I have read most of Crews' books and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. This particular book is special to me because I to had a jumbled and somewhat unstable early childhood and have always felt that I just did not quite fit in. Some of Harry's memories and ideas really helped me understand some things about myself. I think that is what reading is supposed to do for us, no? I also like reading about the country life and North Florida. I sort of identify with the spirit since Harry and I ...more
Lynn Demarest
This memoir of a harsh, dirt-poor Georgia childhood grabs you on the first page and doesn't let loose until 170 pages or so later -- when you'll wish it hadn't ended so abruptly. Crews is the real thing, an artist who writes from the heart and tells the truth as he knows it. His writing is sparse, crystal clear, sharp as a punch to the jaw.

One of the sweetest parts of the memoir is how Crews, whose alcoholic father helped make his childhood even worse than it might otherwise have been, nonethele
...more
Kevin
Harry Crews is one of the most underrated writers from the South, and after reading this book, I can see how. His prose is so effortless and so couched in both the idiom and the culture of the Serious South that it frightens away folks. The world of conjurers, hard-working drunks, and community seems like it happens on another planet. The setting's exoticism is presented as normal, making it tough to engage with for some. But I think it's brilliant for just that reason.
David James
I generally avoid memoirs because, truth be told, most people's lives - my own included - simply aren't interesting enough to write a book about. Harry Crews' life is different. This account of growing up dirt poor in the Deep South in the thirties and forties is gripping from page one and never lets up. Dark, comic, and at times brutal, this is storytelling at its best. Highly recommended.
Nancy
I read this book 25 years ago and loved it. I seldom reread books, but this was a selection for my book club. I was a bit worried that it wouldn't live up to my memories, but I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

Harry Crews was a master wordsmith. He drew me into his story from the first page. I could see what the characters saw, I heard their voices and I felt their pain.
Julie
This is a story about author Harry Crews first six years of his life with a preamble about his biological father. Hardscrabble is the best way to describe the life of his people clawing out an existence in rural Georgia. Toward the end when he had moved to Jacksonville and was stealing hubcaps, I was flabbergasted to read that he was still only six! A remarkable story told with zero apology.
Leslie
Harry Crews insists that he was made by two things: by a place (Bacon County, Georgia) and by stories. He tells us about them in beautiful prose and a voice I could hear in my head all the time I was reading this book. This is a memoir about a childhood lived amidst poverty, violence, and dislocation, yet it avoids any hint of self-indulgence, self-pity, or the clichès of misery memoirs.
Dawn
This is maybe the best biography ever written. Vivid and evocative. You'll learn something about hardscrabble Georgia farming in the 40's (assuming you didn't grow up there and then). I'm not sure it would pass the James Frey test, but I'm very sure its true in spirit and deed. If I were to teach a course on Southern lit, I'd start with this and move on to Delta Wedding.
Alex Morfesis
"The only way to deal with the real world was to challenge it with one of your own making."

Crews' book is a testament to the imagination of rural peoples who contend against nature for nothing less than their mere existence. This book is a reminder of how important family and the power of the storytelling can be when money and health have run out.
Jim Hale
This is a raw but lovely and sometimes shocking book about growing up in hard times in Georgia. The beautiful Illustrations make it even more special. Crews is better known for his wild Florida fiction, but this is hard to beat. One of my favorite memoirs of all time.
Stella Fouts
Harry Crews' early years growing up as white trash (because of circumstances AND for having working/neighborly relationships with black people) certainly shaped his views about the world and influenced his writing. His book, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, goes way back to the beginning, when Crews first remembers actually existing at about five years old.

This story is a window into the lives of poor, rural, white people in the south who co-existed with black people, who were in the same
...more
Caroline
Best book I've read in years.
Rachel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lynsey Barron
This is the kind if book I believe only the descendants of sharecroppers and Pentecostals can properly appreciate, the literary compliment to Walker Evans' photographs, describing the beautiful yet Sisyphean struggle of poor rural people. Southern gothic at its absolute finest.
Laney
A harrowing, somber story of the lives of southern Georgia farmers in the 1930s and 1940s. So many of the anecdotes sound like the same stories that my father heard from his own grandmother, who lived and worked during this time in the same place.

It's one of those stories of Americana where you can catch but a glimpse and no judgment can seep in, because ultimately, we have no context by which we can understand what it was like to live such a life. It is incredible to me that only three generat
...more
Cheryl
I realize this biography was starkly honest--and it has been given a lot of high ratings by other readers, but I found it painful and depressing to read. It's so full of misery, sickness, violence and pain that it makes me sad anyone had to live childhood that way. Even sadder, at the time--the writer thought all of this unhappiness and upheaval was they way everyone lived.
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Harry Eugene Crews was born during the Great Depression to sharecroppers in Bacon County, Georgia. His father died when he was an infant and his mother quickly remarried. His mother later moved her sons to Jacksonville, Florida. Crews is twice divorced and is the father of two sons. His eldest son drowned in 1964.

Crews served in the Korean War and, following the war, enrolled at the University of
...more
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“I first became fascinated with the Sears catalogue because all the people in its pages were perfect. Nearly everybody I knew had something missing, a finger cut off, a toe split, an ear half-chewed away, an eye clouded with blindness from a glancing fence staple. And if they didn't have something missing, they were carrying scars from barbed wire, or knives, or fishhooks. But the people in the catalogue had no such hurts. They were not only whole, had all their arms and legs and eyes on their unscarred bodies, but they were also beautiful.” 21 likes
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