Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination


A tie-in to the new documentary, Roy's World, directed by Rob Christopher narrated by Lili Taylor, Matt Dillon and Willem Dafoe, these stories comprise one of Barry Gifford's most enduring works, his homage to the gritty Chicago landscape of his youth.

Barry Gifford has been writing the story of America in acclaimed novel after acclaimed novel for the last half-century. At the same time, he's been writing short stories, his "Roy stories," that show America from a different vantage point, a certain mix of innocence and worldliness. Reminiscent of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, Gifford's Roy stories amount to the coming-of-age novel he never wrote, and are one of his most important literary achievements—time-pieces that preserve the lost worlds of 1950s Chicago and the American South, the landscape of postwar America seen through the lens of a boy's steady gaze.

The twists and tragedies of the adult world seem to float by like curious flotsam, like the show girls from the burlesque house next door to Roy's father's pharmacy who stop by when they need a little help, or Roy's mom and the husbands she weds and then sheds after Roy's Jewish mobster father's early death. Life throws Roy more than the usual curves, but his intelligence and curiosity shape them into something unforeseen, while Roy's complete lack of self-pity allow the stories to seem to tell themselves.


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“Gifford’s Roy stories work as history and as autobiography, but above all they’re a form of make-believe... ROY’S WORLD made me feel as if the past never really went anywhere, if only we look closely enough.”

“These brief but indelible slices of life detail the unorthodox coming-of-age of a Chicago boy named Roy Winston as he wanders the city alone or accompanies either his divorced father, a liquor-store owner and racketeer, or his unstable but deeply affectionate mother on their separate peregrinations around Chicago and the South...presented not in linear strokes but as a series of perfectly framed slides arranged on a narrative carousel. The stories comprise a road novel without a map and without a destination, but when we finish them, we know we've been somewhere real.”

“Gifford (the Sailor and Luna series) collects his stories and novellas about a boy named Roy and his seedy, charming world for a staggering omnibus that includes 18 new stories and sweeps back to the 1973 collection A Boy’s Novel. Though he occasionally verges on adolescence, Roy is mainly portrayed as five to seven years old, picking up life lessons from showgirls, gamblers, gangsters, and hardscrabble streets , but still occasionally including a tender game of baseball, as in “The Winner.” Roy starts out life in Florida, where, as seen in “A Good Man to Know,” his father is involved in organized crime. Roy’s mother, after his parents’ divorce when Roy is eight, brings one “rat” after another into their lives, so much so that in “Unspoken,” Roy tries to arrange to live with a neighbor. In “Memories of a Sinking Ship,” Roy’s mom takes them both to live in Chicago. Here, the collection truly sings, where a man looks like a “Maxwell Street organ-grinder without the organ or the monkey,” and some stories take on the lurid and matter-of-fact tone of a newspaper crime report, such as “Sick,” in which a dead body is discovered on a lakeside beach. The stories highlight Gifford’s range of styles and registers, even if the book doesn’t quite cohere into a larger narrative. Taken story by story, this collection is full of gems.”

“The year 2020 has brought us "Roy’s World: Stories 1973–2020," collecting Gifford’s tales about Roy, a fictional character modeled on himself as a boy. Taken together, these stories make for one of the most important and moving American bildungsromans of all time. Set primarily between 1947 and 1962, they are, as Gifford has said, “a history of a time and place that no longer exists.” Many of the stories are set in the Chicago of Gifford’s boyhood, which prompted filmmaker Rob Christopher to make the accompanying film, Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago. . .”


The author of more than forty works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, which have been translated into over twenty-five languages, BARRY GIFFORD writes distinctly American stories for readers around the globe. From screenplays and librettos to his acclaimed Sailor and Lula novels, Gifford’s writing is as distinctive as it is difficult to classify. Born in the Seneca Hotel on Chicago’s Near North Side, he relocated in his adolescence to New Orleans. The move proved significant: throughout his career, Gifford’s fiction—part-noir, part-picaresque, always entertaining—is born of the clash between what he has referred to as his “Northern Side” and “Southern Side.” Gifford has been recipient of awards from PEN, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Library Association, the Writers Guild of America, and the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. His novel Wild at Heart was adapted into the 1990 Palme d’Or-winning film of the same name. His novels include Black Sun Rising / La Corazonada, Wyoming, The Sinaloa Story, Port Tropique, Memories from a Sinking Ship, Sad Stories of the Death of Kings, Landscape with Traveler, and The Up-Down. His short stories and poetry are collected in American Falls, Do the Blind Dream?, The Cuban Club, Imagining Paradise. Gifford lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Other books by Barry Gifford