James Sallis is crazy about Walter Tevis, a native San Franciscan, pointing out that by Tevis’s own admission, The Man Who Fell to Earth is “a very disguised autobiography.” The now famous book had been rejected multiple times by publishers, despite Tevis’s remarkable success with The Hustler. Here’s an audio interview with Tevis from 1983 just before his death. And last August, Bookslut’s Michael Schaub took a look at The Queen’s Gambit. And back in 1999, both The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth were named by Jonathan Lethem as two examples of great novels overshadowed by their film adaptations
Ahem — we also like to lay claim to Walter Tevis, who was in fact a genius, here in Kentucky. He was born in San Francisco and lived there until he was 10 or 11, then moved back to Kentucky for a good, long while (and is buried in Richmond, Kentucky). Some people who knew him would probably describe him as a New Yorker, since that’s where he ultimately chose to live and die. This business of what place writers belong to is fascinating to me (because so much of it is bullshit, but irrestible bullshit).
Anyway, Tevis’ SF novels have been back in print for a few years now in quite nice editions. MOCKINGBIRD is completely brilliant — in fact, pair it with Sean Stewart’s MOCKINGBIRD and I’m not sure you can have a bad book named MOCKINGBIRD. And THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is quite, quite wonderful. Hell, all his SF books are wonderful; oddly, I’ve yet to read the poker books.
Anyway, after publishing THE HUSTLER and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH:
After the success of these two novels, Tevis began drinking heavily and became an alcoholic. This led to a seventeen-year gap in his writing career (Williams 1). He quit drinking in 1975 and moved to New York in 1978 (Ellis, “Kentucky”). From 1979 to 1983, Tevis published four books including Mockingbird in 1980, Far From Home in 1981, and Steps of the Sun and The Queen’s Gambit in 1983. Tevis died of lung cancer in 1984 at the age of 56 (Ellis, “Kentucky”).
Those four books in that amount of time. Amazing.
James Sallis ain’t no slouch himself.
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