Sol Yurick (left), author of The Warriors, the movie version of which (right) became THE cult classic of 1979.

Sol Yurick (left), author of The Warriors, the movie version of which (right) became THE cult classic of 1979.

BookNotes: Sol Yurick and The Warriors

Mike Selby

A grieving father kills off the hospital staff whose complete indifference led to his young son’s death. A social worker tries to prevent the neglected and poverty-stricken neighbourhood he works from rioting. A street-gang is falsely accused of murdering the charismatic leader of a rival gang. These are the stories of Sol Yurick, a Brooklyn author, Marxist, and social worker.

Yurick was raised during the Depression by his Russian immigrant parents, who spoke of little but Marx and Lennin. When the Second World War broke out, he broke their hearts by enlisting with the United States army.

After the war he studied literature at New York University, and ended up employed as a social worker in Brooklyn. What he really wanted to do however, was write novels.

Which he did with 1966’s ‘Fertig.’ The story of the grieving and avenging father was complicated and bleak, which may have explained it’s almost universal rejection by publishers. The Trident Press took a chance on it, which paved the way for more books by Yurick appearing throughout the 60s and 70.

‘The Bag’ appeared in 1968, another gritty and realistic look at uncaring systems, this one the welfare department of New York City. ‘Someone Just Like You’ was Yurick’s third published work, which Joyce Carol Oates felt had “a power to move us, urgently and deeply, that cannot be matched by any of the author’s superficially sophisticated contemporaries.”

His works were less popular in the 70s — ‘An Island of Death,’ ‘Richard A.’ and ‘Behold Metatron,’ being titles most people have never heard of.

Yurick will however always be remembered for his novel ‘The Warriors’ — thanks in no small part to Hollywood. Published in 1965, ‘The Warriors’ was the combination of Yurick’s own experience with Brooklyn gangs, and two works of literature.

The first was the ancient Greek story of Anabasis by Xenophon, where a group of stranded soldiers have to fight their way out of enemy territory (Iraq).

The second was an ancient Chinese work, ‘At Water Margin,’ which is the tale of a group of criminals joining forces to overthrow an emperor.

Yurick had direct experience with the street gangs of the 50s and 60s; a truly marginalized group before guns, organized crime, and the drug trade had taken hold. The ones he worked with weren’t really criminally inclined, just looking for a sense of community. He frequently stated “they were neither sick, nor bad, only poor.”

Director Walter Hill bought the rights for the film, and made a visually stunning and unique film, which was dismissed by critics at the time for its “implausibility.” Yet it was a huge financial hit, and 40 years later enjoys cult film status. (It played in the spring of 1979 at Cranbrook’s Armond Theatre, part of a triple bill with ‘Urban Cowboy’ and ‘Up in Smoke.’ I was 12 at the time, and got to see it even though it had an ‘R’ rating. Back then an adult was needed to sign underage moviegoers in, and any adult in line was usually happy to do so. Numerous kids showed up at school the next Halloween dressed as ‘the baseball furies’—easily the most terrifying gang in the film.)

Cranbrook teens were not the only ones impressed by the film. Besides a bestselling videogame, quotes from the film have appeared in dozens of Hip-Hop songs, including ones by the Wu Tang Clan and Ice Cube.

One critic who enjoyed it was Pauline Kael, who somehow picked up on the literary works the story was based on, and called Yurick to discuss them with him. That the murdered gang leader’s name was Cyrus had tipped her off, being the same name of the murdered solider in ‘Anabasis.’ Yurick himself wasn’t all that comfortable with the film at first, but it made his teenage daughter so popular at school he felt it was worth it.

Yurick passed away in 2013 at age 87, mostly writing reviews of other people’s work, spending time with his grandson, and still firmly believing in Marxism.

(An odd side note—the actor who played Cyrus in the film edition quit acting after the show, and became Brooklyn’s most famous interlibrary loan librarian. Can you dig it?)

Mike Selby is Information Services Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library