Gifford, Barry 1946- (Barry Colby Gifford)
Gifford, Barry 1946- (Barry Colby Gifford)
Born October 18, 1946, in Chicago, IL; married; children: two. Education: Attended University of Missouri, 1964-65; attended Cambridge University, 1966.
Office—Curtis Brown Ltd., 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003.
Writer, poet, novelist, screenwriter, memoirist, essayist, and biographer. Black Lizard Books (publisher of noir fiction), cofounder and editor until 1989; worked variously as a merchant seaman, musician, journalist, editor, and truck driver. Military service: U.S. Air Force Reserves, 1964-65.
American Library Association Notable Book Award, 1978 and 1988; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for fiction, 1982; Maxwell Perkins Award, PEN, 1983; PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, 1985; Premio Brancati, 1995; Christoper Isherwood Foundation award for fiction, 2006.
The Blood of the Parade (poetry), Silverthorne Press, 1967.
A Boy's Novel (short stories), Christopher's Books (Oakland, CA), 1973.
Kerouac's Town (essay), photographs by Marshall Clements, Capra (Santa Barbara, CA), 1973.
Coyote Tantras (poetry), Christopher's Books (Oakland, CA), 1973.
Persimmons: Poems for Paintings, Shaman Drum Press, 1976.
The Boy You Have Always Loved (poetry), Talon Books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1976.
(Translator) Francis Jammes, Selected Poems of Francis Jammes, Utah State University Press (Logan, UT), 1976.
A Quinzaine in Return for a Portrait of Mary Sun (poetry), Workingmans Press (Seattle, WA), 1977.
Horse Hauling Timber out of Hokkaido Forest (poetry), Christopher's Books (Oakland, CA), 1978.
Lives of the French Impressionist Painters (poetry), Donald S. Ellis, 1978.
Landscape with Traveler: The Pillow Book of Francis Reeves (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.
Port Tropique (novel), Creative Arts Book Co. (Berkeley, CA), 1980.
The Neighborhood of Baseball: A Personal History of the Chicago Cubs (memoir), Dutton (New York, NY), 1981.
Francis Goes to the Seashore (novella and short stories), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1982.
(With Lawrence Lee) Saroyan: A Biography, Harper (New York, NY), 1984, revised, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.
An Unfortunate Woman (novel), Creative Arts Book Co. (Berkeley, CA), 1984.
Giotto's Circle (poetry), St. Andrews Press (Laurinburg, NC), 1987.
The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Films (essays), Grove (New York, NY), 1988.
A Day at the Races: The Education of a Racetracker, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Ghosts No Horse Can Carry: Collected Poems, 1967-1987, Creative Arts Book Co. (Berkeley, CA), 1989.
Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula (novel; also see below), Grove Weidenfeld (New York, NY), 1990.
New Mysteries of Paris (short stories), Clark City Press (Livingston, MT), 1991.
Sailor's Holiday: The Wild Life of Sailor and Lula (four novellas), Random House (New York, NY), 1991, published with additional novella, Vintage/Random House (New York, NY), 1992, published as The Wild Life of Sailor and Lula, Grove (New York, NY), 1996.
A Good Man to Know: A Semi-Documentary Fictional Memoir, Clark City Press (Livingston, MT), 1992.
Night People (four novellas), Grove (New York, NY), 1992.
"Tricks" and "Blackout" (teleplays; also see below), Hotel Room, HBO, 1993, published in Hotel Room Trilogy: A Trio of One-act Plays, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MI), 1995.
Arise and Walk (novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.
Baby Cat-Face (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.
Perdita Durango (graphic novel), Grove (New York, NY), 1996.
Hot Rod, photographs by David Perry, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
The Phantom Father: A Memoir (contains material published in A Good Man to Know), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.
(With David Lynch) Lost Highway (screenplay), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1997.
The Sinaloa Story, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1998.
(With David Perry) Bordertown, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
Wyoming (novel), Arcade (New York, NY), 2000.
Wyoming (one-act play), produced at the Magic Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 2000.
My Last Martini: Stories, Crane Hill Pub. (Birmingham, AL), 2000.
Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir, revised edition, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2001.
Replies to Wang Wei (poetry), Creative Arts Book Co. (Berkeley, CA), 2001.
American Falls: The Collected Short Stories, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2002.
The Rooster Trapped in the Reptile Room: A Barry Gifford Reader, edited by Thomas A. McCarthy, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Brando Rides Alone: A Reconsideration of the Film One-eyed Jacks, North Atlantic Books (Berkeley, CA), 2004.
Do the Blind Dream? New Novellas and Stories, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Read 'Em and Weep: My Favorite Novels, Dieselbooks (Oakland, CA), 2004.
The Stars above Veracruz, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Memories from a Sinking Ship, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2007.
The Cavalry Charges: Writings on Books, Film, and Music, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author of Flaubert at Key West (poetry), 1997; the limited edition Las Cuatro Reinas (title means "Four Queens"; with photographer David Perry); and the films Lost Highway (with David Lynch), 1997, Perdita Durango, 1997, City of Ghosts (with Matt Dillon), 2002, and Ball Lighting, 2003. Author's books have been translated into twenty-eight languages.
Gifford served as a consultant to the film adaptation of Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula by director David Lynch, Goldwyn, 1990; Bob Callahan did script adaptation and Scott Gillis provided art for Barry Gifford's Perdita Durango, Avon (New York, NY), 1995.
A novelist, poet, screenwriter, essayist, biographer, lyricist, memoirist, and author of short stories, Barry Gifford is a prolific author who has received critical acclaim in a wide variety of genres. He began his literary career as a poet and eventually turned to biography and novels. In addition, Gifford cofounded Black Lizard Books, publishers of noir fiction, where he served as editor until 1989. Responding to his technique of positing colorful, quirky characters—with names like "Perdita Durango" and "Fractious Carter"—inside unconventional formats, critics have praised Gifford's ability to draw heavily on the literary technique of other authors and yet successfully achieve unique works of literary art.
Language has held a fascination for Gifford since he was a young boy. "I grew up in Chicago where my father's friends were racketeers," Gifford once told CA. "He ran an all-night drugstore on the corner of Chicago and Rush, and I would stay up late listening to their talk and dunking doughnuts with the organ grinder's monkey. Afternoons I spent watching show girls rehearse at the Club Alabam next door." His father died when Gifford was twelve years old, which made it necessary for both him and his mother to go to work. He still found time to indulge in his love of language. "I began to read everything," Gifford recalled, citing his major literary influences: "Jack London, Jack Kerouac, B. Traven; later Pound, Emily Dickinson, Jean Rhys, Proust, and Flaubert."
As well as serving as one of Gifford's earliest literary influences, writer Jack Kerouac became the subject of what he and coauthor Lawrence Lee have termed an "oral biography." Based upon numerous interviews with those who knew Kerouac throughout his lifetime—major literati of the Beat Generation such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs as well as little-known friends of the late author—Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac was admired by reviewers for the thoroughness of its scope. "First rate," commented Bruce Cook in his review of Jack's Book for Saturday Review, praising the author's success in "imparting sufficient detail to evoke a sense of Kerouac the man without overburdening us with the kind of day-to-day minutiae that the general reader would just as soon do without."
Gifford's first novel-length work of fiction was Landscape with Traveler: The Pillow Book of Francis Reeves. Organized as a blend of essay and narrative, Landscape tells the tale of a man's search for happiness. Gifford went on to write two other novels, Port Tropique and An Unfortunate Woman, before publishing Wild at Heart in 1990.
Gifford's fourth novel caught the eye of director David Lynch, who adapted the book into the screenplay for his highly acclaimed motion picture of the same name. Wild at Heart won the Palme d'Or (grand prize) at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, propelling Gifford's novel to best-seller status. A story of the flight of newly released ex-con Sailor Ripley and his girlfriend, Lula Fortune, from the scene of one of Sailor's brushes with crime, the novel is a collage of dialogue taking place on the road. Noting Gifford's indebtedness to such writers as Thomas McGuane and Barry Hannah, a reviewer for the New Yorker wrote: "Although it seems to be a pastiche of these earlier chroniclers of the low-rent spree, [Wild at Heart] is a well-made and often funny entertainment that never oversteps the limits of its mannered homage." The broad range of characters that Gifford scatters along the roadside traveled by Sailor and Lula, with their twisted personalities and diverse backgrounds, provides the novelist with ample opportunity to demonstrate his flair for capturing the flavor of Southern dialogue.
"Among the considerable charms of Wild at Heart were the meandering conversations conducted in a lilting Southern drawl you could almost cut with a knife," wrote Catherine Texier in the New York Times Book Review, "and Sailor's Holiday: The Wild Life of Sailor and Lula is imbued with the same voice and charm, its snapshot chapters propelling the book in bursts of manic energy." A collection of four novellas, Sailor's Holiday draws the reader forward ten years in the life of Lula and her lover as Sailor once again emerges from prison, only to fall into surreal surroundings when the couple's young son is kidnapped.
Gifford is called "a talented writer with a strange and original way of looking at the world," in Jon Elsen's New York Times Book Review assessment of Night People, a collection of four novellas.
Commenting on Gifford's next novel, Arise and Walk New York Times Book Review contributor William T. Vollmann called it an unusually written novel "not about anything in particular"; its theme is "another meditation on life in the USA." Vollmann went on to write that Arise and Walk is "a ‘good’ … ‘relevant’ book … that says something about how sick we are." In Arise and Walk, the author writes tales of vengeance. Comparing the novel's style positively to a comic book, Vollmann identified some characteristics of Arise and Walk: "extremely short, hyperexaggerated, interlinked episodes awash in what Alex in A Clockwork Orange used to call ‘ultraviolence’" and "colorful, snappy dialogue." Vollmann also noted that "Gifford's presentation of … violence is offered with a cheery sadism" and added that "the cuteness of its horrors grates on me."
"In The Phantom Father: A Memoir, the arch, voyeuristic tone Mr. Gifford likes to adopt is replaced by something more closely resembling real emotion, just as his taste for deliberately elliptical narratives gives way to something more like a conventional coming-of-age story," wrote Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times. With The Phantom Father, Gifford enhances portions of his previously published work A Good Man to Know: A Semi-documentary Fictional Memoir to produce what Kakutani calls an "essentially nonfiction" piece of "embroidered reminiscence." The Phantom Father is "a book that gratifyingly kisses the past without entirely telling it," noted Jonathan Wilson in the New York Times Book Review. The volume "has an extemporaneous, manipulative quality and is acknowledged by the author to be partly fictionalized; as a result," suggested Kakutani, "the reader continually wonders whether events in the book really happened or whether they are figments of Mr. Gifford's imagination."
The Phantom Father frankly presents Gifford's father as an absent father involved with the mob. "Even so," noted Wilson, "in this affecting memoir … [the author's] concern throughout is to elevate rather than denigrate his dad, who enjoyed Chicago's high life and was generally considered by his contemporaries on both sides of the law to be ‘a good man to know.’" Although noting that "occasionally the portraits of young hoodlums or hard-guy relatives are marred by Mr. Gifford's penchant for worn cinematic images," Wilson lauded the work and recognized that its "characters … emerge as compelling." "[Read] as a work of fiction … [The Phantom Father] emerges as one of Mr. Gifford's strongest efforts," proclaimed Kakutani, praising its "colorful" characters and "evocative passages … [of the] pleasures and perils of boyhood." Kakutani also noted: "Gifford demonstrates in [The Phantom Father] that he does not need to resort to the sort of contrived weirdness he favors in his fiction to hold the reader's interest, that he's actually a more powerful writer when he deals straightforwardly with more mundane material."
In his 1998 book, The Sinaloa Story, the author tells the story of Ava Varazo, a prostitute from a small Arizona town, and DelRay Mudo, a motorcycle mechanic she gets to help her kill a pimp and steal half a million dollars from him. When Ava dumps DelRay and heads off to Mexico, where she wants to start a revolution, DelRay sets out to find her and the money. "The cult appeal of Gifford's campy characters and staccato style remains strong here," wrote Bill Ott in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that, "in Gifford's hands, their troubles are elevated to a gritty, visceral poetry of the marginalized."
Bordertown is a travelogue with photos by David Perry. In the book, Gifford and Perry record their travels and observations along the U.S.-Mexico border. "It included a lot of things from my drawings to poems," the author told Robert Birnbaum in an interview on the Identity Theory Web site. "And there are short stories. It's a trip book…. There is whatever I was writing clippings from newspapers and magazines, collages all of that. Some of that obfuscating and obscuring the photographs themselves. It was meant to be like that, like a scrapbook."
Gifford's novel Wyoming is another road tale, this time featuring a woman in the 1950s married to a Chicago mobster who appears to be on the run with her nine-year-old son. The author does not reveal the reason for their seemingly endless drive through America's South and Midwest, but the story is eventually revealed by the woman and her son as they talk about the past and the future. Roy, the little boy, thinks that "Wyoming" might be a good place to go. Bill Ott wrote in Booklist that, "when we finish [the novel], we know we've been somewhere real." Gifford also adapted his book as a one-act play, which was performed at the Magic Theater in San Francisco.
My Last Martini: Stories contains seven older and reworked tales. The stories take place in several locations throughout the world and include the title story about an unmanageable woman in a bar and the story's narrator, who is also drunk. Another story focuses on a family of Italian car thieves, and "The Old Days" is a tale about an octogenarian who returns to Cuba to recall his past and face his mortality. "This understated tale stands as a fitting conclusion to Gifford's slim but poignant collection of quotidian absurdities," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Writing in Booklist, Bill Ott noted that "Gifford's stories are much quieter [than his novels], often featuring a reflective, even melancholic narrator musing on past events in a flat style that masks passion and sadness."
Gifford turns his attention to film commentary in Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir. The author writes about not only the film noir movies following World War II but expands his scope to include science fiction, horror, and western films with a noir feel, as well as semidocumentaries and French New Wave films. "Every film buff would like to write this kind of book, filled with seat-of-the-pants, off-the-cuff, one-of-a-kind summaries," wrote Jayne Plymale in the Library Journal.
American Falls: The Collected Short Stories, published in 2002, also presents seven tales, including the title story about a Japanese family running a motel in Idaho and renting a room to a black man. "The Big Love of Cherry Layne" tells the story of teenage Cherry, who seduces the barely teenaged boy she is babysitting. The author also includes his noted crime drama stories and a story titled "The Old Days," about a gangster returning to Havana to recall his past. "The ghosts of Gifford's muses, Sailor and Lula, and their fiery dialogue are everywhere, even though the two are nowhere to be seen," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Bill Ott noted in Booklist: "Gifford's insistently idiosyncratic fiction never fails to surprise."
Gifford also cowrote the screenplay for City of Ghosts with the actor and the film's director Matt Dillon. Shot in Cambodia, the film focuses on Asian intrigue featuring Jimmy, who runs to Thailand from New Jersey once the FBI starts hunting him for selling bogus insurance policies. "Dangers lurk in every shadow and down every dark passageway," wrote a Hollywood Reporter contributor.
Gifford's 2006 novel, The Stars above Veracruz, was called a "series of snappy vignettes … [that have] a cinematic quality" by a Publishers Weekly contributor. His noirish, hard-luck stories include "After Hours at La Chinita," in which a God-fearing hotel keeper shoots a John beating up a prostitute, and "Almost Oriental," in which an academic hunts down a reclusive writer in Romania. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called The Stars above Veracruz "an artful ride down dangerous roads."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor called The Cavalry Charges: Writings on Books, Film, and Music "a loosely fitting collection of shaggy-dog stories, anecdotes and book reports." The book of essays includes travel vignettes and anecdotes, such as the author's outing with writer William Burroughs to go shooting. The author also analyzes the Marlon Brando film One-eyed Jacks and presents a series of essays about his favorite books.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, January, 1989, review of The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Films, p. 96.
Booklist, September 1, 1995, Bill Ott, review of Baby Cat-Face, p. 38; February 15, 1998, Bill Ott, review of The Sinaloa Story, p. 981; June 1, 2000, Bill Ott, reviews of My Last Martini: Stories and Wyoming, p. 1856; May 15, 2002, Bill Ott, review of American Falls: The Collected Short Stories, p. 1574; January 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of The Stars above Veracruz, p. 54.
California Journal, April, 1999, A.G. Block, review of Bordertown, p. 7.
California Magazine, November, 1984, Herbert Gold, review of Saroyan: A Biography, p. 48.
Hollywood Reporter, February 3, 2003, Kirk Honeycutt, review of City of Ghosts, p. 12.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of American Falls, p. 441; November 15, 2005, review of The Stars above Veracruz, p. 1204; April 15, 2007, review of The Cavalry Charges: Writings on Books, Film, and Music.
Library Journal, April 15, 1981, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball: A Personal History of the Chicago Cubs, p. 899; November 1, 1984, review of An Unfortunate Woman, p. 2079; May 15, 1988, Susan Hamburger, review of A Day at the Races: The Education of a Racetracker, p. 90; March 15, 1991, review of Port Tropique, p. 120; June 15, 1991, Marcia Tager, review of New Mysteries of Paris, p. 102; July, 1994, review of Arise and Walk, p. 126; June 1, 1995, review of A Good Man to Know: A Semi-documentary Fictional Memoir, p. S21; June 15, 1995, J. Sara Paulk, review of Hotel Room Trilogy: A Trio of One-act Plays, p. 69; August, 1995, Adam Mazmanian, review of Baby Cat-Face, p. 115; May 1, 1997, review of The Phantom Father: A Memoir, p. 103; January, 1998, Charlotte L. Glover, review of The Sinaloa Story, p. 140; December, 2000, Jayne Plymale, review of Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir, p. 140; January 1, 2006, Jim Dwyer, review of The Stars above Veracruz, p. 107.
New Republic, July 18, 1981, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball, p. 32.
New Yorker, June 4, 1990, review of Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula, p. 103.
New York Times, December 23, 1984, Jeanne McCulloch, review of An Unfortunate Woman, p. 16; June 27, 1997, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Phantom Father, p. B29.
New York Times Book Review, January 18, 1981, Jonathan Baumbach, review of Port Tropique, p. 12; December 23, 1984, Jeanne McCulloch, review of An Unfortunate Woman, p. 16; December 28, 1986, Patricia T. O'Conner, review of Port Tropique, p. 28; July 31, 1988, review of A Day at the Races, p. 19; May 6, 1990, review of Wild at Heart, p. 22; April 14, 1991, review of Port Tropique, p. 32; July 14, 1991, New Mysteries of Paris, p. 20; May 24, 1992, review of A Good Man to Know, p. 14; June 14, 1992, Catherine Texier, review of Sailor's Holiday: The Wild Life of Sailor and Lula, p. 32; November 15, 1992, Jon Elsen, review of Night People, p. 18; November 14, 1993, review of Landscape with Traveler: The Pillow Book of Francis Reeves, p. 72; July 3, 1994, review of Arise and Walk, p. 5; October 15, 1995, William T. Vollmann, review of Baby Cat-Face, p. 20; May 18, 1997, Jonathan Wilson, review of The Phantom Father, p. 12; September 24, 2000, Jonathan Miles, review of Wyoming, p. 22.
Observer, July 5, 1992, review of Sailor's Holiday, p. 63.
Publishers Weekly, October 3, 1980, Barbara A. Bannon, review of Port Tropique, p. 57; April 24, 1981, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball, p. 66; April 24, 1981, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball, p. 66; September 7, 1984, review of An Unfortunate Woman, p. 70; April 8, 1988, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of A Day at the Races, p. 82; February 17, 1989, Penny Kaganoff, review of Ghosts No Horse Can Carry: Collected Poems, 1967-1987, p. 72; January 12, 1990, review of Wild at Heart, p. 48; February 1, 1991, review of Sailor's Holiday, p. 64; March 8, 1991, Lisa See Kendall, "Barry Gifford: He Comes from ‘Meaner Circumstances’—and Writes of Them," p. 57; June 7, 1991, review of New Mysteries of Paris, p. 61; February 3, 1992, review of A Good Man to Know, p. 62; August 17, 1992, review of Night People, p. 485; May 30, 1994, review of Arise and Walk, p. 35; June 19, 1995, review of Baby Cat-Face, p. 48; October 16, 1995, review of Perdita Durango, p. 55; March 3, 1997, review of The Phantom Father, p. 53; April 14, 1997, review of Baby Cat-Face, p. 72; February 23, 1998, review of The Sinaloa Story, p. 48; April 6, 1998, review of Bordertown, p. 72; April 10, 2000, review of My Last Martini, p. 75; June 5, 2000, review of Wyoming, p. 72; November 14, 2005, review of The Stars above Veracruz, p. 44.
Saturday Review, August, 1978, Bruce Cook, review of Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac, p. 50.
Sports Illustrated, July 6, 1981, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball, p. 6.
Times Literary Supplement, July 16, 1993, Hamish Robinson, review of Night People, p. 23.
Tribune Books, May 12, 1991, review of Sailor's Holiday, p. 5; June 7, 1992, review of Sailor's Holiday, p. 2; July 20, 1997, review of The Phantom Father, p. 1.
Variety, April 24, 2000, Dennis Harvey, review of Wyoming, p. 39.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1995, review of Arise and Walk, p. 24.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1981, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball, p. 42.
Washington Post, July 14, 1985, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball, p. 12; August 4, 1985, review of The Neighborhood of Baseball, p. 12.
Women's Studies, October, 2001, Jennifer Davies, review of Out of the Past, p. 716.
Identity Theory,http://www.identitytheory.com/ (June 22, 2003), Robert Birnbaum, "Author of Wild at Heart talks with Robert Birnbaum."
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (December 28, 2007), information on author's film work.