The Boy Who Ran Away to Sea

Paperback – March 29, 2022

A childhood in the 1950s and ’60s among grifters, show girls, and mob enforcers who embraced the boy and made him who he is.

“These stories make for one of the most important and moving American bildungsromans of all time.”

—William Boyle, Southwest Review

Roy tells it the way he sees it, shuttled between Chicago to Key West and Tampa, Havana and Jackson MS, usually with his mother Kitty, often in the company of lip-sticked women and fast men. Roy is the muse of Gifford’s hardboiled style, a precocious child, watching the grown-ups try hard to save themselves, only to screw up again and again. He takes it all in, every waft of perfume and cigar smoke, every missed opportunity to do the right thing. And then there are the good things too. A fishing trip with Uncle Buck, a mother’s love, advice from Rudy, Roy’s father: “Roy means king. Be the king of your own country. Don’t depend on anyone to do your thinking for you.” The stories in The Boy Who Ran Away to Sea are together a love letter and a tribute to the childhood experiences that ground a life.

In the Author’s note, Gifford writes,

“I have often been asked if I were interested in writing my memoirs or an autobiography. Given that the Roy stories come as close as I care to come regarding certain circumstances, I remain comfortable with their verisimilitude. They all dwell within the boundary of fiction. As I have explained elsewhere, these are stories, I made them up. Roy ages from about five years old to late adolescence. After that, with the exception of a sighting in Veracruz, I have no idea what happened to him.”

“The way Barry Gifford lets people talk articulates everything about their unfamiliar inner lives, and ours.”

Boston Globe



How Chet Baker Died: Poems

Hardcover – April 12, 2022

Poems from the acclaimed author of Roy’s World, Wild at Heart, and many other works.

The first words in Barry Gifford’s new poetry collection say it all—“Here I am wasting time again / writing poems to keep myself company”—doing what he has ever done, surprising his readers in kaleidoscopic prisms of color, turning every breath into a story, and himself into his most colorful character.

She stood and walked across the lawn
past the cottage and into the big house.
He stayed to watch the last of the sunset,
waiting for the flash of green.
When it was finally dark and there was
no moon and the fireflies appeared,
he got up and began walking toward the house.
He loved the Italian word for firefly,
lucciola. She was like that, flickering
on and off from moment to moment.
As he approached the house, he could hear
her singing: Vogliatemi bene, un bene
. It’s so strange, he thought,
life’s so fast and time’s too slow.
He stopped and watched the fireflies.

Or this:

In my dream someone asked me if
I remembered Frank Jackson
Hearing this name brought tears
to my eyes though I’ve never
known anyone by that name

The mystery in these poems lives just beyond the province of words. In a strange way, Barry Gifford’s poems tell a wordless story, freed of the writer’s art. “It’s dangerous to remember / so much, especially for a writer / The temptation to make sense / of it is always there / where you and I / are no longer.” Daily life, family and friends, are much more important here than books. The beauty and elusiveness of women and music are of utmost importance, far more so than literature. As he attests: “I prefer music to poems, words don’t live the same way—so, listen.”