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Home:  >Browse Listings   >Authors   >Harris, Thomas
Thomas Harris
Thomas Harris

Thomas Harris

Like the serial killers that terrorize people in his novels Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris is an enigma. Information on his life is scarce and difficult to find, and that seems to be the way that Harris, author of three huge national bestsellers, likes it, but as with those elusive serial killers, a little information can be discovered that leads to a greater picture of the man as a whole.

This much is known about Thomas Harris. He was born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1940, but at a very young age, his family moved to his father’s hometown of Rich, Mississippi, so his father could become a farmer. He lived and attended school there until he left for Baylor University in Waco, Texas. While pursuing an English major by day and working as a reporter at the News-Tribune by night, he met and married a fellow student named Harriet. They had one daughter, Anne, before they divorced in the 1960s.

Harris began to pursue his writing career at this point, sending macabre stories to magazines like True and Argosy. According to friends, these stories exhibited many typical Harris trademarks, most notably his incredible attention to detail. When he graduated in 1964, he spent a brief period of time traveling through Europe before he began a job working for the Associated Press in New York, where he was a general-assignment reporter from 1968 to 1974. It was this job that would give him valuable insights into the world of crime, which he covered daily. It also led to the writing of his first novel.

Black Sunday, published in 1975, is the story of a group of Arab terrorists who with the aid of a Vietnam veteran commandeer the Goodyear Blimp and use it in an attempt to bomb the Super Bowl. The idea for the story was concocted by Harris and two other reporters from work, Sam Maull and Dick Riley. They initially researched and began writing together, but eventually Harris took over the project. The book was sold to Putnam, and the three split the advances. It was Harris, however, who would reap the rewards of the novel. The novel received mixed reviews but became a bestseller and a popular movie, and suddenly, Harris had a new career on his hands.

After the book’s release, he devoted himself full-time to writing fiction. Unlike some suspense writers who crank out a new book each fall, Harris spends an exorbitant amount of time researching each book, striving for perfection. For that reason, his next novel, Red Dragon, was not completed until six years later in 1981. The novel tells the story of an FBI agent’s search for a serial killer. More importantly, it introduced Harris’ most popular character to the world: psychiatrist turned psychotic Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, a man with a unique idea about what a prime cut of meat is. Red Dragon was turned into a popular movie by Michael Mann and paved the way for Harris’ most popular novel, The Silence of the Lambs.

The Silence of the Lambs, released in 1988, is considered by many to be a masterpiece of suspense. It tells the story of a female FBI trainee named Clarice Starling’s search for a crazed killer named Buffalo Bill, who is killing young women so he can use their skin to make a coat. In her quest, she comes across Lecter, who knows a lot about Buffalo Bill and is willing to trade information of his whereabouts for information about Clarice. The novel delves deep into the minds of madmen, showing that they can be mad and brilliant at the same time. It also paints a realistic portrait of a strong-willed female that has to let down her defenses and make herself vulnerable in order to capture a killer.

The novel, like Harris’ others, was a big bestseller, but it also turned into a nationwide phenomenon when Jonathan Demme adapted it to film. The film received outstanding reviews and became a box-office smash, saving movie company Orion from impending bankruptcy. All three of Harris’ books enjoyed a revival with the success of the movie, but it did not stop there. After garnering numerous Academy Award nominations, The Silence of the Lambs became only the third movie ever to win the top five awards: best actor (Anthony Hopkins), best actress (Jodie Foster), best screenplay (Ted Tally), best director (Demme), and best picture. All five were deserving, but none more so than Hopkins, whose portrayal of Lecter was sheer brilliance.

In 1999, Harris published the long-awaited sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, aptly titled Hannibal. Though critics were divided in their reaction to the novel, it too was made into a lucrative motion picture starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter.

(Article updated May 2001)

Related Links & Info



  • Black Sunday. New York: Putnam, 1975.
  • Red Dragon. New York: Putnam, 1981.
  • The Silence of the Lambs. New York: St. Martin’s, 1988.
  • Hannibal. New York: Delacorte Press, 1999.


Motion Pictures:

  • Black Sunday. Dir. John Frankenheimer. Paramount, 1977.
  • Manhunter. Based on the novel Red Dragon. Dir. Michael Mann. De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986.
  • The Silence of the Lambs. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Orion, 1991.
  • Hannibal. Dir. Ridley Scott. MGM Pictures/Universal Pictures, 2001.


  • Red Dragon. Adapted by Christopher Johnson. Performed by Chicago’s Centerstage theater group.

Audio Books:

  • Red Dragon. Simon & Schuster Audio.
  • The Silence of the Lambs. Simon & Schuster Audio. 2 cassettes (3 hours). Abridged.


Biographical Sources:

  • Hoban, Phoebe. “The Silence of the Writer.” New York (15 April 1991): 48.

Selected Book Reviews and Criticism:

  • Dameron, J. Lasley. “Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, and Other Contemporaries.” Odense American Studies International Series 6 (1993): 1-21.
  • Fowler, Douglas. “The Aesthete as Serial Killer: Dr. Lecter.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 25.1 (January 1995): 2-3.
  • Grixti, Joseph. “Consuming Cannibals: Psychopathic Killers as Archetypes and Cultural Icons.” Journal of American Culture 18.1 (Spring 1995): 87-96.
  • Kotker, Joan G. “It’s Scarier at the Movies: Jonathan Demme’s Adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs.” It’s a Print!: Detective Fiction from Page to Screen. Eds. William Reynolds and Elizabeth A. Trembley. Bowling Green, OH: Popular, 1994. 195-206.
  • Kurman, George. “Escape Reading: Cheever’s Falconer, Dumas’ Count, and Dr. Lecter.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 23.3 (May 1993): 2-4.
  • Magistrale, Tony. “Transmorgrified Gothic: The Novels of Thomas Harris.” A Dark Night’s Dreaming: Contemporary American Horror Fiction. Eds. Tony Magistrale and Michael A. Morrison. Understanding Contemporary American Literature Series. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1996. 27-41.
  • McCarron, Bill. “The Silence of the Lambs as Secular Eurcharist.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 25.1 (January 1995): 5-6.
  • Messent, Peter. “American Gothic: Liminality in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter Novels.” Journal of American and Comparative Cultures 23.4 (Winter 2000): 23-35.
  • Murphy, Kathleen. “Communion.” Film Comment (January-February 1991): 31.
  • “Red Dragon.” New Yorker. (18 January 1982): 130.
  • Sanders, Joe. “At the Frontiers of the Fantastic: Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.” New York Review of Science Fiction 39 (November 1991): 1, 3-6.
  • Simpson, Philip. “The Contagion of Murder: Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 25.1 (January 1995): 6-8.
  • Strouse, Jean. “Red Dragon.” Newsweek (9 November 1981): 105.
  • Williams, Tony. “Through a Dark Mirror: Red Dragon’s Gaze.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 25.1 (January 1995): 8-10.
  • Ziegler, Robert. “Incorporation and Rebirth in The Silence of the Lambs.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 23.2 (March 1993): 7-9.

Internet Resources

Author Information:

  • The Official Thomas Harris Web Site, described as “the only site on the Web authorized by the author and developed with his cooperation and input.” Presented by Random House.

Online Reviews and Criticism:

Book and Author Information:

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