Gerald Kersh

Gerald Kersh was born in Teddington-on-Thames, near London, in 1911. He left school and took on a series of jobs—salesman, baker, fish-and-chips cook, nightclub bouncer, freelance newspaper reporter—and at the same time was writing his first two novels. His career began inauspiciously with the release of his first novel, Jews Without Jehovah, published when Kersh was 25: the book was withdrawn after only 80 copies were sold when Kersh’s relatives brought a libel suit against him and his publisher. He gained notice with his third novel, Night and the City (1938) and for the next thirty years published numerous novels and short story collections, including the novel Fowlers End (1957), which some critics, including Harlan Ellison, believe to be his best. Kersh fought in the Second World War as a member of the Coldstream Guards before being discharged in 1943 after having both his legs broken in a bombing raid. He traveled widely before moving to the United States and becoming an American citizen, because “the Welfare State and confiscatory taxation make it impossible to work over there, if you’re a writer.” Kersh was a larger than life figure, a big, heavy-set man with piercing black eyes and a fierce black beard, which led him to describe himself proudly as “villainous-looking.” His obituary recounts some of his eccentricities, such as tearing telephone books in two, uncapping beer bottles with his fingernails, bending dimes with his teeth, and ordering strange meals, like “anchovies and figs doused in brandy” for breakfast. Kersh lived the last several years of his life in the mountain community of Cragsmoor, in New York, and died at age 57 in 1968 of cancer of the throat.
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