George V. Higgins is one of Boston College’s most notable literary alumni. Author of over thirty novels and non-fiction works, Higgins began his illustrious writing career as a BC undergraduate student. Editor of the Stylus literary magazine, writer for The Heights, and recipient of The Atlantic Monthly short story award, Higgins seemed a natural for a literary life. He did pursue his love for writing with a Master’s degree in English from Stanford University in 1965, but he returned to Boston College to attend BC Law, and received his J.D. in 1967.
Higgins worked for a short time as a news reporter before beginning his career as an attorney, and he ultimately reached the position of Assistant United States Attorney of Massachusetts. Higgins used his work in an anti-organized crime position as inspiration for the work that made him famous: his realistic crime novels revolving around the seedy criminal underworld of Boston. He scrapped fourteen manuscripts before publishing his first and most successful book, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Higgins published nearly a novel a year for the remainder of his life, and even made a foray in the non-fiction genre with The Friends of Richard Nixon, The Progress of the Seasons (concerning one of his greatest passions in life, the Boston Red Sox), and On Writing, his humorous and rather blunt guide for aspiring authors.
Higgins was most praised – and most criticized – for the writing style that made his crime novels so realistic. The majority of narration was left to the characters themselves, and he focused on their dialogue to bring his stories to life. Although he was initially lauded for this style, critics accused Higgins of relying too heavily on this practice in his later novels. Higgins addressed this critique in On Writing:
Many of my critics seem to feel that they have to say, or strongly imply, that my gift for dialogue is all I have; or that writing dialogue is not the most important attribute a novelist can have . . . A man or woman who does not write good dialogue is not a first-rate writer. I do not believe that a writer who neglects or has not learned to write good dialogue can be depended on for accuracy in his understanding of character and in his creation of characters. Therefore to dismiss good dialogue so lightly is evidence of a critic’s incomplete understanding of what constitutes a good novel.
Recently, the Burns Library was fortunate to receive a small collection of Higgins’ correspondence with one of his lifelong friends, fellow Boston College alumnus Martin J. Kelly. Higgins and Kelly met during their years at BC and maintained a close friendship until Higgins’ death in 1999. Evident in Higgins’ letters is his stylistic flair, dry humor, and devotion to his friend. This collection is now available for research. To learn more, take a look at the finding aid or contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sarah Nitenson, Burns Library Archival Student Assistant and Master’s student in the Department of History.
Galligan, Edward L. “Getting It Right: The Novels of George V. Higgins.” The Sewanee Review 100, no. 2 (1992): 290-298. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.bc.edu/stable/27546527?seq=2&.
Higgins, George V. On Writing: Advice for Those Who Write to Publish (or Would Like to). New York: H. Holt, 1990.
Pace, Eric. “George V. Higgins, 59, Author of Crime Novels.” Time Magazine 154, no. 19 (1999). http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/08/arts/george-v-higgins-59-author-of- crime-novels.html.
Skow, Thomas. “The Man with the Golden Ear.” Time Magazine 136, no. 23 (1990): 87. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost.