James Sallis: Biography
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Over the past fifty years, while "mostly wandering about the house," James Sallis has published fifteen novels, multiple collections of short stories, poems and essays, three books of musicology, reams of criticism, a classic biography of Chester Himes, and a translation of Raymond Queneau's novel Saint Glinglin. Onetime editor of the London-based magazine New Worlds, Jim worked for many years as a reviewer for periodicals including the New York Times, L.A. Times and Washington Post; served for three years as books columnist for the Boston Globe; and maintains a books column at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He teaches advanced novel-writing at Phoenix College and plays out often with his band Three-Legged Dog, as sideman for other musicians, or solo. His novels include Drive, from which Nic Refn's award-winning film derived, the six Lew Griffin novels, Death Will Have Your Eyes, and The Killer Is Dying. Jim has received a lifetime achievement award from Bouchercon, the Hammett Award for literary excellence in crime writing, and the Grand Prix de Littérature policière.

Born in Helena, Arkansas, in 1944, Jim spent his childhood on the banks of the Mississippi River along with his older brother John, a philosopher who's neck and neck with Jim as to published books. Just outside his bedroom window was a drive-in playing music all night: Jimmy Reed, Ferlin Husky, Arthur Alexander. Days he listened to Sonny Boy Williamson on The King Biscuit Hour on KFFA radio, over which he'd later read some of his first stories. Jim played French horn in the school band and has written an essay about his band director, Robert Cinq-Mars, a vastly important influence. At home his turntable regularly spun Mozart, Telemann, Mahler and Tchaikovsky.

As a child I began telling stories daily to classmates and, at home, filled page after page with plots, conversations, beginnings I could never continue, never go on with. More and more, with age, my life seems to exist to be turned into these quiet pages, into literature. People I have loved are put to rest in one or another novel or story; relationships are sorted out in poems, then abandoned, or the other way around; the deepest, most engaging and damaging moments of my life become notes, then pages and, finally, books.

—from the essay "Standing by Death"

Recent work includes Black Night's Gonna Catch Me Here: New and Selected Poems (New Rivers Press), his third collection and containing an array of poems from 1968 to the present; a reissue of his spy novel Death Will Have Your Eyes (Mulholland Books/Little Brown); original stories for a volume to accompany a Louis Vuitton exhibition in Paris and for an anthology, Borderlands Noir, by his friend Craig McDonald; and a number of introductions for books by Jim Thompson, Marek Hlasko, and Jean-Patrick Manchette. Jim's new novel, Willnot, will be out in the spring of 2016 from Bloomsbury in the States and No Exit in the UK.

What is left for us, here
among our families, books and friends,
but to go on as we must.
There will be no more Tolstoys.
There's only the chance to do
what remains:
Find beauty, try to understand, survive.

—from "To a Russian Friend"



James Sallis in August 2007



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