Independent filmmaker Gary Hawkins has directed an award-winning documentary of Brown's life and work in The Rough South of Larry Brown (2011).
Larry Brown was born on July 9, 1951 and grew up near Oxford, Mississippi. He graduated from high school in Oxford, but did not want to go to college, opting instead for a stint in the Marines. Many years later, he took a creative writing class from the University of Mississippi. Brown worked at a small stove company before joining the city fire department in Oxford.
An avid reader, Brown began writing in 1980 in his spare time while he worked as a firefighter (at City Station No.1 on North Lamar Blvd.) His nonfiction book On Fire describes how Brown, having trouble with sleeping at the fire station, would stay up to read and write while the other firefighters slept. His duties as a firefighter included answering fire alarms on the University of Mississippi campus and in the city of Oxford, including Rowan Oak – the home of William Faulkner, but now a museum. Faulkner died in 1962—on Larry Brown's 11th birthday.
By his own account Brown wrote five unpublished novels, including the first one he wrote about a man-eating bear loose in Yellowstone Park. Brown used these kinds of personal experiences when talking to beginning writers. He could tell them not to become discouraged, if only to judge by the rather unceremonious false starts to his own writing career. Brown also indicated that he wrote hundreds of short stories before he began to be published.
His first publication was a short story that appeared in the June 1982 issue of biker magazine Easyriders. His first books were two collections of short stories: Facing the Music (1988) and Big Bad Love (1990). After 1990, Brown turned to writing full-time and increasingly turned to the novel as his primary form. Brown's novels include Dirty Work (1989), Father and Son (1996), Joe (1991), Fay (2000), and The Rabbit Factory (2003). His later works, especially, are marked by gritty realism, sudden and shocking violence, and dischronic narrative. Brown responded to criticism regarding the "brutality" in his work by saying, "Well that's fine. It's ok if you call it brutal, but just admit by God that it's honest."
In March 2007, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill published Brown's unfinished novel, A Miracle of Catfish. Although Brown died before finishing the book, the final page of the published version includes his notes about how he wanted the novel to end. The novel includes a lengthy introduction by Brown's editor, Shannon Ravenel, discussing her work on the project and her work with Brown over the years. Except for the novel The Rabbit Factory, all of Brown's books were published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, now a division of Workman Publishing. The paperback editions of Brown's books were issued by various publishers, including Warner Books, Algonquin, Holt, and Vintage Books, a division of Random House.
Brown's nonfiction includes On Fire (1995), on the subject of his 17 years (1973–1990) as a firefighter, and Billy Ray's Farm (2001).
For one semester, Brown taught as a writer-in-residence in the creative writing program at the University of Mississippi, temporarily taking over the position held by his friend Barry Hannah. He later served as visiting writer at the University of Montana in Missoula. He taught briefly at other colleges throughout the United States.
He has been compared to other Southern writers, including Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner and Harry Crews. In interviews and some of his essays, Brown cited these authors, along with Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski, as influences
Brown had also cited contemporary music as an influence, and his tastes were broad. He appeared with the Texas alt-rock band fronted by Alejandro Escovedo, a good friend of his. He also cited the lyrics of Leonard Cohen as an influence. He had friends in the film industry, including Billy Bob Thornton.
Brown, a heavy drinker, died of an apparent heart attack at his home in the Yocona community, near Oxford, in November 2004.Facing the Music (1988) – short stories
Dirty Work (1989) – novel
Big Bad Love (1990) – short stories
Joe (1991) – novel
On Fire (1993) – autobiography
Father and Son (1996) – novel
Fay (2000) – novel
Billy Ray's Farm: Essays from a Place Called Tula (2001) – Essays
The Rabbit Factory (2003) – novel
A Miracle of Catfish (2007) – novel (posthumous)