In a career that began in the 1960s — and brought comparisons to Faulkner and Hemingway — Jim Harrison wrote more than three dozen books, including the novelsDalva and True North, the novella Legends of the Fall and many collections of poetry. He died Saturday in Patagonia, Ariz., at the age of 78, his publisher has confirmed to NPR.
“Our thoughts are with the Harrison family and his many friends all over the world,” Grove Atlantic publisher and CEO Morgan Entrekin said in a statement. “Jim is gone but his work will live on.”
Harrison set his stories in the untamed corners of America — the Big Sky country of Montana, the arid deserts of the Southwest, the swamplands and forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he spent his summers.
Harrison described the “massive presence of Lake Superior” beside the “undifferentiated wilderness.” There were rivers, creeks and beaver ponds. “I had a wolf right outside my cabin years ago,” Harrison recalls. “It was a lovely experience.”
In a 2007 interview, Harrison said he needed the wilderness. At the beginning of his career, he tried teaching at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, in the company of Alfred Kazin, Philip Roth and Louis Simpson.
“It was an exciting place,” he recalled. “I enjoy intelligent company, you know? But I like outside better than inside. And there weren’t enough places for me to feel free.”
A life in the elements echoed in Harrison’s rough-edged voice. He grew up in the farmlands of Michigan. When he was only 7 years old, a piece of glass blinded his left eye.
“That set me apart a little bit,” he said. “So it seemed altogether natural to become obsessed, or feel that you had a calling for an art form in which you were also set apart.”
“I always seem to be writing about semi-outcasts,” he added.
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