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Hubert Selby Jr. was an American writer known for the controversial novel Last Exit to Brooklyn as well as Requiem for a Dream, both of which were adapted for film.
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Born on July 23, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, Hubert Selby Jr. joined the merchant marine as a teen before suffering severely from tuberculosis. He later wrote the acclaimed novel of stories Last Exit to Brooklyn, whose gruff language faced obscenity charges. Selby's other books include The Demon and Requiem for a Dream, which was adapted for film along with Last Exit. He died on April 26, 2004, in Los Angeles, California.
Hubert Selby Jr., perhaps best known for his novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, was born on July 23, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York.
Selby went to sea as a merchant marine while he was still in his teens. Laid low by lung disease, he was, after a decade of hospitalizations, written off as a goner and sent home to die. Deciding instead to live, but having no way to make a living, he came to a realization that would change the course of literature: "I knew the alphabet. Maybe I could be a writer." Drawing from the soul of his Brooklyn neighborhood, he began writing The Queen Is Dead, which evolved six years later, into his first novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964), a book that Allen Ginsberg predicted would "explode like a rusty hellish bombshell over America and still be eagerly read in a hundred years."
Damned and praised with equal fire, Last Exit to Brooklyn more than fulfilled the first part of Ginsberg's prophecy; and today, more than 30 years later, the work is well on its way to fulfilling the latter: standing as the first breath and testament of a wholly new poetic, as a classic not only of contemporary literature, but of the literature of the ages. Even The New York Times would be compelled to recognize "Selby's place in the front rank of American novelists," to see in his work "the power, the intimacy with suffering and morality, the honesty and moral urgency of Dostoevsky's," and to say that, "To understand Selby's work is to understand the anguish of America."
Hubert Selby's second novel, The Room (1971), considered by some to be his masterpiece, received, as Selby said, "the greatest reviews I've ever read in my life," then rapidly vanished leaving barely a trace of its existence. Over the years, however, especially in Europe, The Room has come to be recognized as what Selby himself perceives it to be: the most disturbing book ever written, a book that he himself was unable to read again for twenty years after writing it.
"A man obsessed / is a man possessed / by a demon" reads the defining epigraph of The Demon (1976)—a novel that, like The Room, has been better understood and more widely embraced abroad than at home.
If The Room is Selby's own favorite among his books, Requiem for a Dream (1978) contains his favorite opening line: "Harry locked his mother in the closet." It is perhaps the truest and most horrific tale of heroin addiction ever written.
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