Hubert Selby Jr. - Details


Hubert Selby, Jr. is one of America's most important postwar writers, whose forceful and often achingly beautiful prose limns harsh, difficult lives with absolute empathy. He is best known for his 1964 book Last Exit to Brooklyn, which caused a firestorm upon its release and has since come to be recognized as a classic. The New York Times has ranked him among America's best writers, comparing his work to that of Dostoevsky.

Hubert Selby, Jr. was born in Brooklyn in 1928. He became a U.S. Merchant Marine as a teenager. In 1946, he was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis; he spent the better part of the next three and a half years in the hospital, during which time doctors collapsed one of his lungs, removed part of another, and took out ten ribs. Told repeatedly that he could not possibly survive, Selby refused to go quietly. Deciding to do something with his life, he began to write, drawing from his Brooklyn neighborhood. An early short story, "The Queen Is Dead," would later become part of his first book, Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Published in 1964, Last Exit to Brooklyn was praised by many, including poet Allen Ginsberg; it also drew fire for its frank depiction of homosexuality, drug addiction, gang rape and sheer human brutality. It was prosecuted for obscenity in Great Britain in 1967; the first, all-male jury's conviction was reversed on appeal. Selby's subsequent novels, The Room (1971) and The Demon (1976) continued to plumb the ravaged psyches of human beings at the end of their emotional tethers, and were hailed by critics.

In 1978, Selby published Requiem for a Dream; in his introduction to the paperback edition published by Thunder's Mouth Press in 1988, novelist Richard Price wrote, "His art is his ability to humanize the seemingly inhuman, and by extension to humanize the reader."

Selby has written short fiction throughout his career, his work appearing in such journals as Yugen, Black Mountain Review, Evergreen Review, Provincetown Review, Kulchur, New Directions Annual, Swank and Open City. A collection of short fiction, Song of the Silent Snow, was published in 1986. The following year, Selby was invited to join a reading by writer/musicians Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins, both ardent fans of Selby's work. This began a new phase in Selby's career, as audiences responded enthusiastically to his live readings.

In 1989, Selby joined Henry Rollins for a spoken word tour of Europe that resulted in the CD Live in Europe 1989. In 1998, Selby collaborated with much-admired writer Nick Toches on a spoken word CD, Blue Eyes and Exit Wounds.

In 1989, Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) was made into an acclaimed film, directed by Uli Edel and starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Burt Young and Jerry Orbach. Selby made a cameo appearance in the film as a taxi driver. The rights to Selby's novel The Demon have been purchased by director Jean-Jacques Beineix.

Selby has lived in Los Angeles since 1969, and has taught creative writing at USC in addition to writing screenplays and teleplays. His most recent novel, The Willow Tree, was published in 1998. Currently, Selby is collaborating with Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding on an original screenplay.


  • 23rd July 1928 - Birth