Gene Lyons is an award-winning author, columnist, horseman, dog-lover, reformed rugby player, and apprentice redneck who lives on a gravel road in an Arkansas county with more cows than people. He’s written four books on very different topics, and co-wrote with Joe Conason The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.
A nationally-syndicated columnist, Lyons spent 18 years as the token non-right wing crackpot on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette op-ed page, before finding a more congenial home base at the Arkansas Times. His column is also posted weekly at Salon.com. He sometimes gets really, really sick of politics and politicians, and wanders down to the barn. There are rivalries among the ungulates, but no prevarication.
Lyons was born on September 20, 1943 in Elizabeth, N.J., descended from hardy Irish-Catholic peasant stock. His father lived by two maxims: First, “You’re no better than anybody else; and nobody’s better than you!” a succinct expression of the Irish-American world view. Lyons considers it his personal credo. Second, “Nobody likes a smartass,” which he hasn’t particularly found to be true. His literary heroes are Jonathan Swift and George Orwell.
Educated at public schools in Elizabeth and Chatham, N.J., Lyons graduated from Rutgers University in 1965. He earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia in 1969. On his first day in Charlottesville, he met an Arkansas coach’s daughter studying history there, whom he eventually followed home from school. After teaching literature and writing at the Universities of Massachusetts, Texas and Arkansas, Lyons decided he was unsuited for academia and resigned to write full time.
Working out of Little Rock, Lyons has written hundreds of essays, articles and reviews for magazines such as Harper’s, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Esquire, the New York Times Magazine and Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Slate, Salon, Oxford American and Washington Monthly. In 1980, he won the National Magazine Award for a Texas Monthly article called “Why Teachers Can’t Teach.” He was an associate editor there in 1980, and a general editor at Newsweek from 1981-86, writing mainly reviews and back-of-the-book features.
Lyons’ book The Higher Illiteracy, a greatest-hits collection, was published in 1988 by the University of Arkansas press. In 1993, Simon & Schuster published Widow’s Web, a true crime account of two notorious murders that held the state of Arkansas in thrall for years. “Gaudier than the state fair and more passionate than an Arkansas-Texas football game,” he wrote “[the case] became a public entertainment having less to do with facts than with the passions and prejudices of its audience. Yet for all the zeal with which Arkansans followed the story’s every twist and turn…they never really had a clue.”
Bill Clinton’s presidency dragged Lyons into political journalism. His book Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater was published by Franklin Square Press in 1996. Co-written with Joe Conason, The Hunting of the President was published in 2000 by St. Martin’s press. It became both a New York Times bestseller and a 2004 documentary film directed by Nikolas Perry and Harry Thomason. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, it was an official selection at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
Lyons and his wife Diane have two adult sons. They live near Houston (pop. 159) in Perry County, Arkansas with a large menagerie of dogs, cats, horses, a flock of chickens, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Along with his agricultural labors, Lyons is writing a memoir called Animal Passion, essentially a history of his and Diane’s marriage in pets. The opening chapter appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of the Oxford American.