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Who is Hubert Selby?

Hubert Selby was plagued by a heroin addiction.
Hubert Selby's novels focus on prostitutes, drug addicts and other troubled people in New York.
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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2014
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Hubert Selby Jr., born on 23 July 1928 in Brooklyn, New York, was a 20th century American writer. He is most famous for two novels: Last Exit to Brooklyn, which was published in 1964, and Requiem for a Dream, which was published in 1978. Both novels have both been adapted into movies.

Hubert Selby Jr. was the son of Hubert Selby Sr. and Adalin Selby. Hubert Sr. was originally from Kentucky, and worked as both a coal miner and a merchant seaman. When Hubert Jr. was fifteen years old, he dropped out of school in order to follow his father’s professional footsteps, joining the United States Merchant Marines.

Unfortunately, in a 1947 marine excursion, Hubert Selby Jr. was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis. He was taken off of the ship in Germany and shipped back to the United States. At the time, the doctors with whom he consulted estimated that he had less than a year to live. For almost four years, Hubert Selby Jr. was treated at the Marine Hospital in New York. He went through numerous therapies and procedures, some of which were experimental, in an attempt to regain his health. Some of these treatments did more harm than good. During this time, Selby Jr. developed a dependence on painkillers and heroin that would plague him for decades thereafter.

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Hubert Selby Jr. had no academic credentials, little work experience, and frail health. Therefore, it was quite difficult for him to secure employment, so he stayed at home with his young daughter while his wife worked. With no formal training at all, Selby began to write. Selby wrote in a rage, with little planning or attention to grammar or punctuation. His work has been compared to the “spontaneous prose” of Jack Kerouac. Selby’s most famous works deal with the underworld of New York City and Brooklyn, focusing on the lives of drug addicts, homosexuals, transvestites, thieves, thugs, and the residents of government housing projects.

In the 1980’s, Hubert Selby Jr. made the acquaintance of the musician Henry Rollins, a great admirer. Rollins helped to increase Selby’s readership. Despite his artistic success, the last years of the author’s life were marked by periods of depression and rage. Furthermore, his lung troubles continued through his life. Hubert Selby Jr. died of chronic obstructive pulmonary lung disease on 26 April 2004 in California.

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