Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Thomas Harris


Thomas Harris Mississippi authors Willie Morris and Thomas Harris in 1997.  Photo by J. D. Schwalm of Clarion-Ledger

Major Works

  • Black Sunday 1975
  • Red Dragon 1981
  • The Silence of the Lambs 1988
  • Hannibal 1999
  • Hannibal Rising 2006

Photo by J. D. Schwalm

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Biography of Thomas Harris
By Teal Waterstrat (SHS)

Thomas Harris, author of three national bestsellers, was born in JacksonHannibal by Thomas Harris, Tennessee, but moved to Rich, Mississippi, with his parents, William and Polly, early in his life. He attended Clarksdale High School, where his mother taught biology. His mother reports that he spent most of his time reading and writing, and that Hemmingway was a favorite writer.

Not much information is available about the life of Harris, but after high school, he went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to earn a major in English. While in Waco he worked for the Herald Tribune as a police reporter but found it very unimaginative. While at Baylor, he wrote numerous stories to magazines like True and Argosy that were gothic and detailed.

During this time Harris met his wife Harriet and they had a daughter named Anne before they divorced in the 60's. His father died during this period of his life as well.

After college Harris moved to New York and held a job as editor for the Associated Press in New York. His experiences as a crime reporter gave him information he used in his later writings. His first book, Black Sunday, is about Arab terrorist and a Vietnam veteran who try to bomb the Super Bowl. Published in 1975, the book became a best seller and a successful movie.

Harris does a lot of research for his fiction, so his second book Red Dragon was not published until 1981. This novel is the story of an FBI agent's search for a serial killer and contains Harris's character psychotic psychiatrist Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Red Dragon also became a popular movie called Manhunter.

The third novel written by Harris is considered a masterpiece of suspense by many people. The Silence of the Lambs was published in 1988 and includes madmen and a strong-willed female. The film made from the book won five Academy Awards.

Harris has homes in Rich, Mississippi; Long Island, New York; and Miami, Florida. His mother, with whom he keeps in close contact, says she likes his work and she is not frightened by it! Harris closely guards his privacy.

Thomas Harris is known for his painstaking detail in his writing. The detail is so vivid that the story almost seems to make pictures in the mind of the reader. Because of his attention to detail, Harris takes a long time to write his novels. 1999

Biography of Thomas Harris
by Joe Underwood (SHS) 2001

Harris photo by Athena Varolunissm from  book jacketFinding information about the author Thomas Harris is difficult. He is like the uncatchable serial killer that he so vividly writes about in his novels. As his novels progress, the reader becomes more aware of who the killer is. Similarly, little by little information about Harris has been revealed about his life, but he tends to avoid the spotlight.

Thomas Harris was born in Jackson, Tennessee, to William and Polly Harris but moved to Rich, Mississippi, his father's hometown, early in his life. He attended Lula Rich school through the tenth grade, at which time he transferred to Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. It was not until the last semester of his senior year that he transferred to Clarksdale High School, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where his mother taught biology.(Edwards). After high school, Harris went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he pursued a major in English and worked as a reporter for the News-Tribune. Also, while attending Baylor, he met fellow student Harriet whom he married. They had one daughter, Anne, before they divorced in the 1960s.

After graduating from college, Harris spent a brief period traveling through Europe (Seibels) before landing a job as general assignment reporter with theBlack Sunday by Thomas Harris New York Associated Press from 1968 to 1974. It was this job that gave him his valuable insights into the world of crime. From this experience came his first novel, Black Sunday, in 1975. Black Sunday is about an Arab terrorist and a crazed,Vietnam veteran who try to bomb the Super Bowl. The success of the book and the movie it was made into prompted Harris to become a full time writer. Because Harris pays so much attention to detail, his next book, Red Dragon, was not published until 1981. This story introduces the character Hannibal Lecter to whom many fans and web sites are devoted today. Red Dragon was also made into a successful movie called Manhunter.

The introduction of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter paved the way for what is Harris's great work The Silence of the Lambs (Shirley 56). The Silence of the Lambs, released in 1988, was a huge success and prompted a movie which earned five Academy Awards, including best actor (Anthony Hopkins), best actress (Jodie Foster), best screenplay (Ted Tally), best director (Demme), and best picture (Seibels). Silence of the Lambs created a huge demand for a sequel, which came out in 1999 called Hannibal. It is the continuing story of Hannibal Lecter, who has escaped and is on the run again with Clarice Starling once again on his heels. It also has been made into a movie. Harris now has homes in Rich, Mississippi; Long Island, New York; and Miami, Florida. His mother, with whom he keeps in close contact and who still lives in Mississippi, says she likes his work; and she is not frightened by it! Harris closely guards his privacy. Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris2001
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UPDATE 2008: Thomas Harris's novel Hannibal was published in the summer of 1999. Hannibal Rising was published in 2006. All four of his novels have been made into major motion pictures. In 2007 he won the HWA LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD at the World Horror Convention in Toronto, Canada.

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A Review of The Silence of the Lambs
by Teal Waterstrat (SHS)

Thomas Harris's third best-selling novel, The Silence of the Lambs, is the chilling story of an insane murderer and the people set on his capture. When the story opens, you think that the killings are just randomly selected victims; but as the book progresses, the killings turn into something infinitely more horrible.

The FBI have been trying to track down the killer without any luck until section chief Jack Crawford sends Starling, a trainee, to question the imprisoned The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harrispsychologist, Hannibal Lector. From the cryptic answers of Lector, Starling is able to close in on the trail of the murderer. As Starling chases down the killer, she weaves in and out of a host of characters and her own haunted past. The support from her friends help her through the horrific trials that Dr. Lector hinted at. 

Dr. Lector changes his mood from an interested intellect to that of an insane cannibal so quickly that it seems that there really are two of him. He leaves one uncertain about what the next turn may bring. The one thing you can count on is his desire to be free. The Silence of the Lambs is a wonderfully chilling book that makes you want to learn more about each of the characters in the book. If reading is not one of your favorite pastimes, then watch the movie, which follows the plot of the novel exactly.

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Review of Hannibal
by Joe Underwood (SHS)

Though not what I expected this book to be, Hannibal is well worth reading, that is if you have lots of free time. Critics are right when they say Thomas Harris goes into much detail. In fact, that is basically what the whole first half of the novel is, a whole lot of detail.

The story opens up where Silence of the Lambs left off, with Clarice Starling still on the FBI and Hannibal Lecter having escaped from his transport to a federal penitentiary in Memphis, Tennessee. Clarice is having problems with the FBI after a disastrous drug raid in which she ends up shooting a woman, who was the head of the drug operation, carrying a child. This causes a public outcry and, of course, the FBI needs someone to blame the incident on. The the media have already formed its own opinion of what has happened and runs stories calling Clarice a killer, which prompts Lecter to write her a letter to "keep in good spirits."

Now here is where the plot starts. One of Lecters' early victims, Mason Verger, who somehow miraculously survived but is bed bound for life and hideously disfigured, wants revenge. Since he is a millionaire and has pull in Congress, he follows the continuing search for Lecter through the FBI and is conducting a private one of his own. Mason has put all kinds of rewards on Lecter hoping somebody will find him. Mason's plan is to capture Lecter and slowly torture him to death by having him eaten by a pack of wild boars. Mason knows Clarice has had contact from Lecter and hopes he can somehow lure Lecter out of hiding by using her, so he uses his pull in Congress to drop her charges.

While Clarice is on the hunt for Lecter, an inspector in Florence, Italy, named Rinaldo Pazzie discovers Lecter. Pazzie contacts Verger and wants to collect the bounty. Joe Underwood.  Photo by Nancy JacobsVerger then sends over a professional kidnapping team to capture Lecter alive. The whole thing goes sour, and Hannibal ends up getting away and Pazzie is killed. After his escape from capture in Florance, Lecter heads back to the U.S. to go back into hiding. Mason expects this move and uses his influence in the FBI to get Clarice suspended. This event causes Lecter to come out of hiding to try and make contact with Clarice; and when he does, Mason's men capture him. To find out what happens next, you'll just have to read the book.
All in all, Hannibal was a good book. I had a little trouble getting into it, but once I had finished about half the book, the action started to pick up a bit, and it was harder to put the book down.

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Related Websites

Randomhouse's Official Web Site for Thomas Harris.

Find more information about Thomas Harris on Ole Miss's Writers Page.

THOMAS HARRIS WINS HWA LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD at World Horror Convention in Toronto Canada, in 2007.

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Bibliography for Waterstrat "Biography of Thomas Harris"

"'Lambs'  Harris Keeps Silent." Clarion Ledger. February 24, 1991.

"Local Author's Book on Screen." Clarksdale Daily. March 3, 1982.

"MS Writer Turns Simple Plot into Puzzler." January 2, 1983.

Mississippi Writers Directory and Literary Guide. Center of Study of Southern Culture. University of Mississippi, 1995.

"Press Register Reviewers Praise Rich Man's First Book." Clarksdale Daily. January 20, 1996.

The Silence of the Lambs. New York Times Book Review. September 4, 1988.

"Writer Protects Privacy; Doesn't Grant Interviews"  Press Register. March 2, 1991.

Bibliography for Underwood "Biography of Thomas Harris"

Edwards, Albert. "Reviewers praise Rich man's 1st book." The Clarksdale Press Register. 20 January 1975: 2.

McShane, Larry. "Dr. Lecter returns, but his creator stays away." The Commercial Dispatch. 7 June 1999: np.

O'Briant, Don. "'Lambs' Harris keeps silent." The Clarion-Ledger. 24 February 1991: np.

Seibels, William T. "Thomas Harris." [Online] Available at http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/harris_thomas/index.html. June 7, 1999.

Shirley, Aleda. Susan M. Glisson and Ann J. Abadie . Mississippi Writers. Oxford, Mississippi: The University of Mississippi, 1995. 56.

Weatherly, Jack. "HCC official isn't 'silent' about friend." Star-Herald. 23 April 1992: np.

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