Tony Hillerman
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Literary Arts

Tony Hillerman

Past Event: Wednesday, October 5, 1994

Tony Hillerman was born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma on May 27, 1925. At that time, Oklahoma was the dumping ground for numerous Native American tribes displaced from their hereditary lands. Many of Hillerman’s friends and classmates in Sacred Heart were Native Americans. His introduction to this culture provides the foundation for most of his best-selling crime novels. “I know what I write about seems exotic to a lot of people but not for me”, says Hillerman.

In 1943, Hillerman joined the military to escape life on the farm. Hillerman fought in World War II and was eventually discharged for injuries in 1945. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart. Letters he had written his mother while fighting overseas earned him recognition with a local journalist whom later told him to become a writer. Hillerman enrolled at the University of Oklahoma where he received a B.A. in 1948. After graduation, he worked a variety of journalist positions in the Southwest. He received an MA in 1966 from the University of New Mexico and taught there until 1987. With his wife’s encouragement, Hillerman published his first book The Blessing Way in 1970. Hillerman has since become one of the most successful fiction crime writers and wonderful storyteller “I’ve been a newspaperman most of my life,” he says, “I don’t have to look for ideas. I’ve heard most of them.”

Hillerman is also a respected portrayer of traditional Navajo culture. He carefully researches each book to provide an accurate depiction of Navajo life. He has received many awards including, the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award in 1989, an Edgar Award for Dance Hall of the Dead in 1974, and the Special Friends of the Dinee Award by the Navajo Nation in 1987. He says, “I never intended to write the Great American Novel. I wanted to write books that told stories.”

Hillerman lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife Marie.

Excerpt from The First Eagles (2002)

The body of Anderson Nez lay under a sheet on the gurney, waiting.From the viewpoint of Shirley Ahkeah, sitting at her desk in the Intensive Care Unit nursing station of the Northern Arizona Medical Center in Flagstaff, the white shape formed by the corpse of Mr. Nez reminded her of Sleeping Ute Mountain as seen from her aunt’s hogan near Teec Nos Pos.

Nez’s feet, only a couple of yards from her eyes, pushed the sheet up to form the mountain’s peak. Perspective caused the rest of the sheet to slope away in humps and ridges, as the mountain seemed to do under its winter snow when she was a child. Shirley had given up on finishing her night shift paperwork. Her mind kept drifting away to what had happened to Mr. Nez and trying to calculate whether he fit into the Bitter Water clan Nez family with the grazing lease adjoining her grandmother’s place at Short Mountain. And then there was the question of whether his family would allow an autopsy. She remembered them as sheep camp traditionals, but Dr. Woody, the one who’d brought Nez in, insisted he had the family’s permission.

Selected Work
Golden Calf (2002)
Hunting Badger (1999)
The First Eagle (1998)
The Fallen Man (1997)
Sacred Clowns (1993)
Coyote Waits (1990)
Talking God (1989)
A Thief of Time (1988)
Skinwalkers (1986)
The Ghost Way (1984)
The Dark Wind (1982)
People of the Darkness (1980)
Listening Woman (1978)
Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
The Blessing Way (1970)

Interview with Hillerman