April 27, 2004 by

Hubert Selby Jr.


Categories: Education, Hollywood, Writers/Editors

hselby.jpgHubert Selby Jr., an acclaimed author and educator, died on April 26 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 75.
The New York City native was still a teenager when he joined the Merchant Marines. He was diagnosed with lung disease at 18, and spent a decade in and out of hospitals before doctors sent him home to die. Instead of giving in to this decree, however, Selby decided to write.
For six years, he chronicled life in his Brooklyn neighborhood into a novel that was published in 1964. “Last Exit to Brooklyn” received rave reviews and blistering critiques, was the subject of an obscenity trial in Britain and eventually inspired a cult following. It became the basis of a movie by the same name in 1989, which featured a cameo of the author.
Heroin addiction was the main focus of Selby’s 1978 book, “Requiem for a Dream,” which was adapted to the screen in 2000 by director Darren Aronofsky. Although Selby spent years battling addictions, he was always sober when he wrote. Over the course of his four-decade career, Selby published “The Room” (1971), “The Demon” (1976), “Song of the Silent Snow” (1986), “The Willow Tree” (1998) and “Waiting Period” (2002). He also released two spoken word albums: “Blue Eyes and Exit Wounds” (with Nick Tosches) and “Live in Europe 1989” (with Henry Rollins).
For the past two decades, Selby taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and worked on screenplays. Most days, he would write for five hours in a West Hollywood apartment, always leaving the last line unfinished so he’d have a place to start the following morning. Selby was writing an autobiographical novel, tentatively titled, “Seeds of Pain, Seeds of Love,” when he died.
Listen to Selby Read an Excerpt From “Song of the Silent Snow”
Listen to a 1990 NPR Interview

10 Responses to Hubert Selby Jr.

  1. elaine jonson

    One of the greatest writers of our time.
    His writing – I read Last Exit to Brooklyn in the early 80’s, got hooked on his writing and thereafter read everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. In the 80’s, I had to special order Requiem for a Dream – I paid like $30. and waited 6 months.
    I have not, in my life, read more powerful narrative. This man had the capacity to go directly to the very core, the bone marrow, of real life in terms of the subject matter that he chose to address. Nothing more honest, powerful or painfully real has ever been written. Not to my knowledge – and I have read John Rechy,Genet, Paul Monette and others.
    And, it doesn’t matter what the prissy, posturing, pussy critics think about “obscenity”. Someone had to say it; it’s real life. Period.
    I wept when I read his obituary this morning.
    There is no one else like HS. He was one of a kind.

  2. Lori

    So goes another treasure…Mr. Selby was one of the greatest writers this world has seen. I first read The Room when I was 19, though it was the hardest piece of fiction ever written, he was able to reach me and show the perverse fragility we all possess inside. He has a spirit that captures the true essence of what it is to be alive. In this cruel existence we come across a few people who make life livable Hubert was one of them, I will miss the next novel or great cameo. Thank You Mr Selby you live on through your novels, of which I treasure!

  3. Anthony Snellings

    Mr. Selby is my hero. His writings are like none that I have ever read before. He has made me want to become a writer, and hopefully i will be. This man’s work not only shocked and amazed with it’s harsh view of life, addiction, and raw emotion, but educated. I read Requiem for a Dream when I was fifteen years old. I read Last Exit to Brooklyn shortly after, and i am currently reading The Room as of this morning (i’m still only 16). There will never again be a writer with his ferocity, intelligence, and over all skill. He is the only writer capable of looking deep into the darkest pit of human life and emotion, and still pull out something beautiful. Thank you Mr. Selby. You will never be forgotten.

  4. lucia

    there is not any other writer like hubert selby jr.
    going through his books was awesome.his great spirit and power gave me reason to fight each day.
    thank you mr. selby

  5. Emma

    Mr Selby was a one of the best novelists of his and our time. His work was truely insperational, hard hitting novels like Requiem For A Dream changed the lives of people around the globe. Mr Selby showed the emotions of different characters and their views on life, through amazing writting. There are no words that can describe what Mr Selby has created, the closest would be pure beauty. I wish i could thank him for making me into a better person and changing my life. He will be deeply missed by will continue to live through his work!


    MR SELBY JR has touched my life in a way that no other person could do, he takes the reader of his books on a hypnotic trip through real life, depression and fantasy, Mr Selby was so much more than a writer, he was an inspiration to so many of his admirers, he had the power and talent to make the reader feel the pain and deep emotions within the characters, a skill that very few writers could do. he will be missed dearly,

  7. Jeannie

    I learned of Mr Selby for the first time last night as I watched Requiem for a Dream. Mr. Selby’s interview deeply touched me. I kept the movie just so I could hear his profound words again. His death saddens me tonight; I only just found him.

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