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Remembering the MI roots of author, poet Jim Harrison

Legends of the Fall book cover
Courtesy photo
Grove Atlantic publishing
The movie starring Brad Pitt made 'Legends of the Fall' Jim Harrison's most famous work.

One of the greatest Michigan-based writers of his generation died over the weekend. We remember Jim Harrison with Bill Castanier, who writes about books for the Lansing City Pulse.

Jim Harrison, the Michigan-based writer renowned for his work in both fiction and poetry, has died at the age of 78.

He was probably best known for “Legends of the Fall,” his book that became a hit movie starring Brad Pitt.

Known as a rugged outdoorsman, Harrison was born in Grayling and grew up in Haslett.

The 1960’s-era Michigan State University graduate was a collegiate contemporary of fellow writer Tom McGuane.
A few years ago, Harrison and McGuane spoke at a Wharton Center program along with another great Michigan author, Richard Ford.

The host of that program was historian and Lansing City Pulse writer, Bill Castanier. He joined Current State this morning to help remember Jim Harrison.

“I think in 10 to 20 years he will be considered one of the great American novelists, like Faulkner,” says Castanier.

The death of an author almost always boosts the popularity of their works, according to Castanier.

“Legends of the Fall’ is most noted because it was made into a movie,” says Castanier. “But there’s many of his novels, novellas and books of poetry that are better.”

He points to a book like "Dalva", written in a woman’s voice, as an example of a lesser-known literary standout.

This is a vast difference in perspective from the male-driven tale told in “Legends of the Fall”.

Those who knew Jim personally – like Castanier – don’t find this sharp contrast as surprising.

“Jim was down to earth – literally and figuratively,” says Castanier. “I think that often wasn’t seen because he was caught up in being the macho hunter, fisherman.”

“But that wasn’t Jim. He was kind, gentle – and would do anything for anyone.”

Castanier says Harrison’s married life dispels any notion of masochism that may arise from some of his writings.

“His wife kept him on target – they were married for more than 50 years,” says Castanier. “For people who said he was a masochist…you’d only have to know Linda to know that he wasn’t.”

Linda King Harrison passed away from a rare lung disease on October 8, 2015, preceding her husband’s death by less than six months.
Castanier says that Harrison adapted to life without his wife poorly.

“That was his greatest fear – that he would outlive his wife,” says Castanier. “He went into somewhat of a hibernation.”

Harrison still managed to finish two books after Linda died, according to Castanier.

“In his last writings, he was writing very much about his own mortality,” says Castanier.

Article by Ethan Merrill, Current State Intern

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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