Elmore Leonard
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Literary Arts

Elmore Leonard

Past Event: Monday, September 30, 1996

Sometimes referred to as “Dutch” or the “Dickens of Detroit,” Elmore Leonard was born in New Orleans on October 11, 1925. He moved to Detroit with his family at the age of 10 and has decidedly remained in that area ever since, “because I know the names of the streets.” Inspired, in part, by legendary novelist, Ernest Hemingway, Leonard learned to take writing seriously after leaving the Navy to enroll in the University of Detroit. Following graduation in 1950, he regularly submitted western stories to Zane Grey Westerns and The Saturday Evening Post. Driven to achieve commercial success, he chose to write westerns and later, crime novels, based on their market demand.

Known for his pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and gritty realism, Leonard developed his true-to-life street talk by frequenting jazz clubs in the 1940’s. He also credits developing his style through interacting with criminals, police officers, and local people in the working class neighborhoods of Detroit, MI. “The way a character speaks,” Leonard described, “reveals his attitude and personality,” Leonard also strives to move and build his stories with dialogue as much as possible. Writer Martin Amis wrote, “He doesn’t just show you what these people say and do. He shows you where they breathe.”

All of his crime novels written after 1985 have become national bestsellers and three (Get ShortyOut of sight, and Rum Punch/ “Jackie Brown”) have been adapted into critically acclaimed movies. He has received numerous awards including the lifetime achievement “Grand Master Award” by the Mystery Writers of America in 1992. His novel LaBrava won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel in 1983 and Hombre was deemed one of the best westerns of all time by the Western Writers of America in 1961.

Leonard lives with his wife, Christine, in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan.

Excerpt from Tishomingo Blues (2002)
Dennis Lenahan the high diver would tell people that if you put a fifty-cent piece on the floor and looked down at it, that’s what the tank looked like from the top of that 80-foot steel ladder. The tank itself was 22-feet across and the water in it never more than nine feet deep. Dennis said from that high up you want to come out of your dive to enter the water feet first, your hands at the last moment protecting your privates and your butt squeezed tight, or it was like getting a 40,000-gallon enema.

When he told this to girls who hung out at amusement parks they’d put a cute look of pain on their faces and say what he did was awesome. But wasn’t it like really dangerous? Dennis would tell them you could break your back if you didn’t kill yourself, but the rush you got was worth it. These summertime girls loved daredevils, even ones twice their age. It kept Dennis going off that perch 80-feet in the air and going out for beers after to tell stories. Once in a while he’d fall in love for the summer, or part of it.

Selected Work
Tishomingo Blues (2002)
Fire in the Hole (2001)
Pagan Babies (2000)
Tonto Woman (1998)
Be Cool (1999)
Cuba Libre (1998)
Out of Sight (1996)
Riding the Rap (1995)
Pronto (1993)
Rum Punch (1992)
Maximum Bob (1991)
Get Shorty (1990)
Killshot (1989)
Freaky Deaky (1988)
Touch (1987)
Bandits (1987)
Glitz (1985)
LaBrava (1983)
Stick (1983)
Cat Chaser (1982)
Split Images (1981)
Gold Coast (1980)
City Primeval (1980)
Gunsights (1979)
The Switch (1978)
The Hunted (1977)
Unknown man No. 89 (1977)
Swag (1976)
Fifty-Two Pickup (1974)
Mr. Majestyk (1974)
Forty Lashes Less One (1972)
Valdez is Coming (1970)
The Moonshine War (1969)
The Big Bounce (1969)
Hombre (1961)
Last Stand at Saber River (1959)
Escape from Five Shadows (1956)
The Law at Randado (1954)
The Bounty Hunters (1953)

Elmore Leonard’s official web site
New York Times: Elmore Leonard Obituary