Nebraska Authors

James Myers Thompson

AKA: Jim

Born 1906-09-27 Anadarko Territory, OK (USA)

Died 1977-04-07
CA (USA)

Jim Thompson came to himself as a writer in Lincoln in the early 1930s, under the tutelege of Lowry Wimberly. He is considered one of "Wimberly's Boys." Growing up in Oklahoma, in the Nebraska Sandhills, and in Texas, Thompson knew an unforgiving world of labor and want that colored his writing in later years.

Thompson's mother was from the Nebraska Sandhills. When Thompson first enrolled in the University it was in the Ag College, later he enrolled in the English department. After graduation, he served as Director of the Federal Writers Project in Oklahoma in the 1930's. Thompson married Alberta Hesse, a Lincoln, Nebraska native, in 1931. In 1942, he wrote his first book with autobiographical references to Lincoln. Between 1942 and 1973, he published 29 novels, all but three in paperback form as originals. Thompson suffered a stroke in 1975 and died two years later. Thompson's work experienced a late 20th century revival and re-publication as his novels served as the basis for film scripts: 'The Grifters', 'The Kill-Off' and 'After Dark, My Sweet' all appeared on the screen in the 1990s.

Along with Mignon Eberhart, Thompson was one of the great early giants of American crime fiction to come from Nebraska. Yet the contrast between the two Nebraska writers could not be greater, where Eberhart's heroines find their way, in some crisis or exotic locale, to middle class dreams and ideals, Jim Thompson's stories savage middle class ideals and pursue them into nightmares. Writer Donald Westlake was a particular admirer of Thompson's work. In one of Thompson's publisher's blurbs, Stephen King calls Thompson "my favorite crime writer."

Novels which became films: The Killing, 1956, directed by Stanley Kubrick; Paths of Glory,1957, directed by Kubrick; The Getaway,1972, directed by Sam Peckinpaw; The Killer Inside Me,1975, directed by Burt Kennedy; Serie Noire, 1978, directed by Alain Corneau; The French film Coup De Torchon ('Clean Slate,'), 1980 was adapted from Pop. 1280, directed by Bertrand Tavernier, it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1982 for Best Foreign Film; The Grifters 1991, adapted from Thompson's novel by Donald Westlake.

See the biography by Robert Polito, Savage Art: A biography of Jim Thompson, 1995.
Also David A. Taylor, Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America, 2009, a book which accompanies the NEH funded documentary film by the same title, which features Thompson.

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Places Lived

Burwell, NE
Lincoln, NE
Oklahoma
Texas
California

Author Of

  • Fiction

Keywords

Detective Fiction; Crime Fiction; Pulp Fiction; Noir; Federal Writers Project

Education

Public Schools in Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1929-1931;

Occupation

Wrote for agricultural and oil magazines.
Edited Saga - a men's magazine.
Journalist
Writer (paper back originals, television and screenplays)
Odd jobs:
Bellboy
Oil-field roustabout
Steeplejack
Actor

Places Worked

Oklahoma Writer's Project
New York Daily News
Los Angeles Mirror
True Detective Magazine
Saga, a men's magazine

Odd jobs in:
Nebraska
Texas
Oklahoma
New York
California

Honors

Sold his first manuscript at age 15
Made a film appearance in Dick Frances' film version of Farewell, My Lovely

Associations

Worked with Lowry Wimberly, Robert Crawford and Russell True Prescott (all three were UNL Professors). Considered one of "Wimberly's Boys."
Benjamin Botkin was a close friend.
Woody Guthrie helped circulate the manuscript of Thompson's first novel among New York publishers.
Published two stories and a poem in the Prairie Schooner
Co-wrote two films for director Stanley Kubrick, The Killing and Paths of Glory

Bibliography

Always to Be Blessed. 1932. (Lost Novel)
Now and on Earth. 1942.
Heed the Thunder. 1946. (1991 edition)
Nothing More Than Murder. 1949.
Killer Inside Me. 1952. (1984 paper edition)
Cropper's Cabin. 1952. (1992 paper edition)
Sins of the Fathers. 1952. (Canadian Edition of Heed the Hunter)
Recoil. 1953.
The Alcoholics. 1953.
Bad Boy. 1953. (Autobiographical)
Savage Night. 1953.
The Criminal. 1953. (1986 paper edition)
The Golden Gizmo. 1954.
Roughneck. 1954. (Autobiographical material, discusses Lincoln, NE)
A Swell-Looking Babe. 1954.
A Hell of a Woman. 1954.
The Nothing Man. 1954.
After Dark, My Sweet. 1955. (1986 paper edition)
The Kill-Off. 1957.
Wild Town. 1957.
Lunatic at Large. 1959. (Lost Novel)
The Getaway. 1959.
The Transgressors. 1961.
The Grifters. 1963.
Pop.1280. 1964.
Texas By the Tail. 1965.
South of Heaven. 1967.
Ironside. 1967.
The Undefeated. 1969.
Nothing but a Man. 1970.
Child of Rage. 1972.
King Blood. 1973.
Jim Thompson: The Killers Inside Him. 1983. (Edited by Max Allan Collins and Ed Gorman)
Hard Core. 1986.
Fireworks: The Lost Writings. 1988. (edited by Robert Polito and Micahel McCauley)

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