Wozencraft, Kim 1955–
WOZENCRAFT, Kim 1955–
Born 1955 in Dallas, TX; daughter of an aluminum salesman and a homemaker; married Creig Matthews (a former undercover narcotics officer), December, 1979 (divorced, 1983); married Richard Stratton (a screenwriter), 1991; children: (with Stratton) three children, including Maxwell and Dashiell. Education: Attended Richland College; Columbia University, B.A., 1986, M.F.A.
Home—New York, NY.
Writer. Tyler Police Department, Tyler, TX, undercover narcotics officer, 1976-79; Offline Entertainment Group (production company) cofounder (with Richard Stratton, Marc Levin, and David Peipers), 1994—. Served as an advisor for television programs on prison life. Actress in the film Whiteboyz, 1999. Military service: Served with the U.S. Air Force for eight months, 1981.
Rush, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Notes from the Country Club, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
The Catch, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
Wanted, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
The Devil's Backbone, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.
(Editor, with husband, Richard Stratton) Slam, the Book (companion book to the film), Grove Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Editor of Prison Life, 1993-96; contributor to periodicals, including Texas Monthly, Newsday, Los Angeles Times, and to anthologies, including Best American Essays.
Rush was adapted as a film directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, screenplay by Wozencraft, starring Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Sam Elliott, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1991; Slam was adapted for film.
Kim Wozencraft has led an astonishing life, first as an undercover narcotics officer, then as a drug addict who was sent to federal prison, and finally as a successful author of novels based on the experiences of her life. Born into a middle-class Catholic family in Dallas, Wozencraft was the oldest of three daughters. She did well in high school and enjoyed sports, especially track and softball, and occasionally wrote poetry. Upon graduating high school she attended nearby Richland College and worked in a dead-end job in a mall. She was recruited by and joined the Tyler Police Department and began work as an undercover narcotics officer at the age of twenty-one. Partnered with Creig Matthews, who became her lover and eventually her husband, Wozencraft descended into a life of drug addiction. They did the deals, collected the drugs (evidence), and stored them, but they used some of the stored drugs too. Over time she and Matthews became addicts. She later told Kristin McMurran of People: "There were times when I'd be smoking hash with people I would later bust when it seemed like 'Yeah, these are just my neighbors and we're having a good time.' …. Other times I'd wake up wondering what I was doing. Then I'd lay out a couple of lines, and cocaine would answer all the questions."
Keith Kachtick in the Texas Monthly related: "Eventually in 1979 there came a 'bust-out'—a night when the Tyler police swooped in and arrested the drug dealers Wozencraft and her partner [collected] evidence against. 'It was frightening knowing that I would now have to confront many of them in court,' she recalled, 'to know that many people who, on some level, had come to trust me now hated me and wanted to destroy me.'" One eventually put a price on the lives of Wozencraft and her partner. Kachtick wrote: "One night, under the cover of darkness, the barrel of a shotgun poked through an open window and tapped her on the forehead while she lay asleep on a couch. She grabbed the gun barrel as the unseen assailant blasted her partner's leg and arm, almost killing him." She identified the would-be assassin as a key drug figure that they were never able to get evidence on. Shortly after the attack, she "quit the police department, got free and clear of her drug addiction and moved to San Antonio, where she joined the Air Force," wrote Kachtick. A police officer assigned to the shotgun incident began investigating the undercover work of the two narcotics officers. He gave what he discovered to the FBI, who began their own investigation. They began questioning her. At first she denied she took drugs and had framed the drug lord; ultimately though, she let it all out. "Telling the truth was an enormous relief. 'I felt like I had been carrying a stack of china and I just let it fall' she [said]," wrote McMurran. She and Matthews were prosecuted, and in 1982, she was sentenced to prison for eighteen months. "It was one of the best things ever to happen to me," she told Kachtick. After her release in 1983, she divorced Matthews and began her college studies at Columbia University in New York City, as well as her new life. For her M.F.A. thesis, she wrote a novel based on these experiences. The thesis became her first published work, Rush.
Rush is an autobiographical novel. The film rights were sold before Wozencraft had even finished the manuscript. In the novel, Kristen Cates, a part-time college student with idealistic notions about doing socially redeeming work, joins the police force in Pasadena, California, and is soon assigned to undercover drug work. Her instructor, later her lover, is Captain Jim Raynor, who teaches her the hard lesson that dealers will not trust people not willing to take the drugs themselves. As Cates falls deeply into the drug world she is supposed to be combating, she reflects on what taking drugs has done to her. "It changes you. You can tell yourself you are doing it because you have to, so you can make the case. Because it's better than sex or it makes sex better. Because you feel like it today. But no matter what you tell yourself, how you explain it, there is only one reason. You are after the rush." Despite her own drug abuse, Cates is responsible for many arrests of drug dealers. As long as the success continues, her police superiors look the other way from Kristen's and Jim's descent into addiction. It is also obvious to Kristen that corruption is the order of the day in the police department, as officers surreptitiously partake of some of the drugs they have confiscated. In the end, Kristen has lost all of her illusions and testifies falsely in court against an important drug kingpin.
According to Katherine Dunn in the Washington Post Book World, the book is really about the shades of hypocrisy. "Wozencraft …. explores the functional range of hypocrisy inch by inch, from soothing benefits to crucial necessity, from self-serving pettiness to malignant catastrophes." Carl Hiaasen, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found Kristen and Jim "a tough pair to like." He indicated that Wozencraft's cynicism led her to conclude that "the illegal drug trade is so unavoidably sleazy that pure truth and justice are impossible." Wozencraft does her best writing, Hiaasen wrote, "when detailing the favored scams of both the street and the squad room." Chester Rosson in the Texas Monthly asserted that as Wozencraft takes the reader through "this morally slippery territory, she makes the issues scarily concrete." Dunn liked the novel's "crisp, punchy detail" and Wozencraft's "lean, athletic prose," and found the character of Kristen Cates "utterly convincing." McMurran described the novel as "a powerful work," and Louise Bernikow for Cosmopolitan wrote that "Wozencraft is a spellbinding writer."
In 1993 Wozencraft released Notes from the Country Club, which draws on her own experiences in prison to tell the story of a woman incarcerated for killing her abusive husband. Now in a psychiatric unit, Cynthia Mitchell awaits a doctor's evaluation as to whether she is competent to stand trial. Most of the story takes place in the prison, with, according to Kelly Cherry in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "the scheduled head counts, the wire-mesh windows, the all-white seclusion room, the cast of characters that assembles in the day room." Cherry wrote that this novel about battered women brings to mind both "old Ida Lupino movies and a very modern sympathy for women who live every day in emotional imprisonment."
Tracy Cochran in the New York Times Book Review felt that this second novel lacked the "like-it-or-not honesty" of Rush. Cherry liked the way Wozencraft picks up on the dialogue among prisoners and especially valued the moral complexities she explores in the novel. "Is our legal system adequate to deal with the problem of battered women? Is Cynthia's rationalization [about lying in court about killing in self-defense] …. acceptable, even if it is illegal?"
Again drawing on her knowledge of the drug world, Wozencraft wrote The Catch, a novel about a middle-class family in upstate New York whose comfortable income comes from the father's drug smuggling. Annie Trowbridge, who has given up cocaine to be a better wife and mother, urges her husband, Kurt, to get out. He promises to eventually join her in the antique business but always succumbs to the next lucrative drug deal. When his planeload of marijuana crash-lands, he is arrested by Joe Kessler of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Out on bail, Kurt tries again to do "one last job" and works on escape plans. Annie is torn, and complicating the plot is the fact that Joe is beginning to fall in love with Annie. The novel concludes with "a final chase and a devastating end," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who called The Catch "a sizzling novel," even better than Rush. James Polk in the New York Times Book Review thought that the reader could easily figure out the inevitable ending early in the story but that "surprisingly, the foreshadowing detracts less than one might think from the novel's force," partly because Wozencraft weaves such fascinating stories of illegal activities perpetrated by seemingly typical middle-class parents. Cecilia R. Cygnar in Library Journal noted that the story is a good thriller but that it "works better as a character study" exposing the "painful emotions" of Annie Trowbridge.
Wozencraft's only nonfiction work, Slam, was written with her husband, Richard Stratton, who coproduced and cowrote the movie upon which the book is based. The story line follows a black poet (a so-called "spoken-work" poet) who is jailed for drug possession. The book is a collection of personal stories and poetry by people who worked on the movie. The film, shot in only twelve days in a prison and a housing project, used both real prisoners and actors to portray its fictional characters.
In her 1996 interview with Kachtick for the Texas Monthly, Wozencraft stated: "I no longer think setting people up is the right thing to do …. I think it not only does amazing damage to the individual, who has probably got a drug problem in the first place, but it has completely corrupted law enforcement and the whole criminal justice system." She further declared: "I messed up, and I went to prison, and I've tried to come back out and contribute to society. Many prisoners don't get that chance. I believe in justice. But I believe in restorative justice."
Wozencraft's novel Wanted is a story told by two women. A Publishers Weekly writer felt that Wozencraft's "knack for nonstop action will keep readers engaged from the very first page." Gail Rubin is a forty-six-year-old former radical with the Free Now group who has been in prison for eighteen years for her participation in a bank robbery that resulted in deaths. Her request for parole has been denied, and she now faces another twelve years. Her cell mate is Diane Well-man, a twenty-four-year-old police officer who is in prison on a trumped-up drug charge after she attempts to expose the chief of police, who has arrested an innocent black man for a triple murder that Diane witnessed and which was committed by a white man. Diane is resigned to serve her time in federal prison until Gail approaches her with plans for a break.
In their escape from the law, the women travel across the country with help from Diane's friends from her activist days. Library Journal reviewer Terry Jacobsen found that as the story progresses, "Diane's vigilantism keeps it moving forward at a steady clip." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "the larger subject is the mental state of being prison-breakers wanted in a nationwide manhunt."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Wozencraft, Kim, Rush, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Cosmopolitan, April, 1990, Louise Bernikow, review of Rush, p. 44.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2004, review of Wanted, p. 660.
Library Journal, September 15, 1998, Cecilia R. Cygnar, review of The Catch, p. 115; September 1, 2004, Terry Jacobsen, review of Wanted, p. 144.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 24, 1993, Kelly Cherry, review of Notes from the Country Club, p. 13.
New York Times Book Review, April 15, 1990, Carl Hiaasen, review of Rush, p. 5; October 17, 1993, Tracy Cochran, review of Notes from the Country Club, p. 42; October 18, 1998, James Polk, review of The Catch, p. 29.
People, April 23, 1990, Kristin McMurran, "Out from Undercover, an Ex-cop Ex-con Writes a Million-Dollar Novel about Drugs and Corruption" (interview), p. 65.
Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1998, reviews of Slam and The Catch, pp. 370, 382; August 30, 2004, review of Wanted, p. 33.
Texas Monthly, May, 1990, Chester Rosson, review of Rush, p. 130; January, 1996, Keith Kachtick, "Rush to Justice" (interview), p. 56.
Washington Post Book World, June 10, 1990, Katherine Dunn, review of Rush, p. 3.
Kim Wozencraft Home Page,http://www.kimwozencraft.com (May 26, 2006).*