He was born in Bacon County, Georgia in 1935 and served in the Marines during the Korean War. He attended the University of Florida on the GI Bill, but dropped out to travel. Eventually returning to the university, Harry finally graduated and moved his wife, Sally, and son, Patrick Scott, to Jacksonville where Harry taught Junior High English for a year.
Harry returned to Gainesville and the university to work on his master's in English Education. It was during this period that he and Sally divorced for the first time. Harry continued his studies, graduated, and - denied entrance into UF's Creative Writing program - took a teaching position at Broward Community College in the subject of English. It was here in south Florida that Harry convinced Sally to return to him, and they were re-married. A second son, Byron, was born to them in 1963. He currently teaches at Wright State University.
In 1964, Patrick Scott died of accidental drowning. This proved to be too heavy a burden on the family, and Harry and Sally were once again divorced.
His first published novel, The Gospel Singer, was released in 1968. His novels include: A Feast of Snakes, Body, Scar Lover, Karate Is A Thing of the Spirit, All We Need of Hell, The Mulching of America, and Celebration. He published a memoir in 1978 titled A Childhood: The Biography of a Place.
Canadian pop band Men Without Hats has a song called "Harry Crews" on their 1991 album Sideways.
Colorado band Drag The River has a song called "Mr. Crews" on their 2006 album It's Crazy.
In the 2004 documentary, Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, Crews tells his grisly homespun Southern stories while walking down a rural dirt track.
Harry played a brief role in Sean Penn's The Indian Runner and dedicated his book Scar Lover to Penn.
Harry has a tattoo on his right arm that says How do you like your blue eyed boy Mr. Death beneath a skull.
The British Comics writer Jamie Meakes revealed a new tattoo at a recent London Small Press Comics conference. The tattoo says How do you like your red-headed women, Mr. Crews?.
In 2007, another documentary, Harry Crews - Survival is Triumph Enough was released by United Pictures International. The personal format is loosely based on an interview with artist and filmmaker Tyler Turkle, and the themes explored include hardship, tragedy and loss throughout the Crews' life.