– Harlan Ellison, 1934-2018Among the most polarizing figures in American literature, Harlan Ellison epitomized not giving a shit while deeply giving a shit.
He could be charming, yet reprehensible. Generous, yet infuriating. A champion of the oppressed, yet abusive and predatory. He marched with MLK and spent time in jail for civil-rights agitation at a time when that was not a common thing for young white dudes to do. He was an infamous womanizer with a penchant for harassment in the name of a joke. Harlan was among the most eloquent voices in the history of American letters, and he published some godawful shit in the name of getting paid.
Harlan Ellison was one of my favorite writers, a wellspring of cantankerous rage, and among the most influential people in my life. During Reagan’s reign of errors, Ellison’s books – most especially An Edge in My Voice and Stalking the Nightmare – were always close at hand for me. He taught me that fury is creative fuel, that we must fight oppression even when it hurts us to do so, and that we can and must be better than we so often are.
(He also showed me how much fun you could have with the English language, and that words like “bugfuck” made for perfectly acceptable literature, provided you could use them intelligently in a sentence.)
I was fortunate enough to meet him in person several times. Despite his ferocious reputation, he was always polite, funny and kind at those times, even when – as on a panel at some convention I can’t recall offhand, where we disputed the value of publishing online – we disagreed.
Harlan was a living personification of “complex.”
He’s had a lot of shit to answer for over the years, but we are fortunate to have had someone like him – however flawed he was as a person – to light the fires and call accounts and show us just how bad things COULD be and how grand they SHOULD be if we get off our asses and refuse to take the darkness laying down.
Thank you, you cranky bastard.
Your words live on on me.