The author of The Silence of the Lambs and other novels of suspense, William Thomas Harris was born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1940. When he was a young boy, he and his parents, William and Polly, moved to a farm in his father’s hometown, Rich, Mississippi. Harris attended Clarksville High School, where his mother taught biology. Harris exhibited a love of books at an early age and spent much of his time reading. Ernest Hemingway was one of his favorite authors.
Harris earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in 1964, while working at night as a police reporter for the Waco Tribune-Herald. Though he found the job uninspiring, the experience and insight he gained into police work served him well in his later writings. While at Baylor, Harris wrote and submitted dark, meticulously crafted short stories to publications such as True and Argosy.
In 1968 Harris took a job with the Associated Press in New York, working as a crime reporter and editor and learning about police procedure in homicide investigations. Harris was intrigued by criminal psychology and forensic pathology, interests that added great depth to his fiction, enriching his characterizations and enabling him to take dark suspense in a new direction.
Harris and co-workers Sam Maull and Dick Riley created the idea for a novel about a group of Arab terrorists who conspired with a disturbed Vietnam veteran to commandeer the Goodyear Blimp and use it to bomb the Super Bowl. Black Sunday was published in 1975, becoming a best seller and a successful movie and enabling Harris to begin writing full time.
Harris spent eighteen months in 1979–80 living in his hometown, where he wrote Red Dragon (1981), the novel that introduced to readers his most famous character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Two film adaptations were made from this novel, Man Hunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002).
Excitement surrounding the character of Lecter set the stage for a second novel with the psychotic doctor as one of the principal characters. The Silence of the Lambs (1988) is considered a masterpiece of dark suspense. The novel redefined the serial killer story, profoundly influencing the horror and thriller genres and winning several awards. The 1991 film adaptation, directed by Jonathan Demme, swept the Academy Awards, taking the top five honors: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Motion Picture.
The third novel in the Lecter series, Hannibal (1999), allows readers a glimpse into Lecter’s childhood and the trauma that profoundly shaped his life and psyche. Despite mixed reviews, the novel was a success. The 2001 movie version, however, disappointed many readers. Director Ridley Scott not only changed the ending but also sacrificed suspense by focusing only on the grisly aspects of the story.
In 2006 Harris published Hannibal Rising, which chronicles Lecter’s early life. The 2007 film version, with a screenplay written by Harris, garnered generally negative reviews.
In 2006 Harris received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association. Between 2012 and 2015, NBC aired Hannibal, a television series featuring one of Harris’s most famous characters.
Harris eschews publicity and lives in Florida and New York.
- Jason Cowley, The Observer (19 November 2006)
- Thomas Harris, “Foreword to a Fatal Interview,” Red Dragon (2000)
- Shannon Riley, Surreal Magazine (2005)