Elmore Leonard with Barry Hannah in front of Square Books
(October 11, 1925 - August 20, 2013)
Elmore "Dutch" Leonard died at the age of 87 from complications due to a stroke. He had a prolific career as a writer and was working on his 46th novel when he passed away. Born in New Orleans, his family moved when he was a youth to Detroit where his father worked for GM. After college, Leonard stayed in Detroit and began to write westerns (notably Hombre and 3:10 to Yuma) while still working full time with a local advertising firm in the 1950s but switched to primarily writing crime fiction in the late 1960s. He went on to incredible success with many of his books (Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, et al) being turned into movies and tv series, most recently, the FX series Justified based on his Raylan Givens character.
Leonard influenced a generation of crime novelists including George Pelecanos, Ace Atkins, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, and Megan Abbott. To many, his quick-paced, sparse style combined with a superb ear for dialogue, gritty realism, and a mean sense of humor raised the status of crime fiction to a new level. In 2007, he published Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing which he said he wrote because he was so often asked what the secret was to his style. The book featured rules such as, "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it" and "Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip". Square Books was fortunate to host Leonard when Barry Hannah (check out the great photo of the two literary heavyweights) enlisted him to come to Ole Miss and speak to the MFA program. Leonard was his gracious self as he spent time with students and later signed books for fans and read on Thacker Mountain Radio.
On a personal note, I started reading him when I was 15 and have been a fan ever since. I got to meet him a handful of times. The highlight being a few years ago when Dutch came to Lemuria to read and be on an MPB tv show panel which also featured his son Peter as well as George Pelecanos and Mike Connelly. I drove down from Oxford and attended the reading, and John Evans kindly invited me (and my parents) to come with them for food and drinks at the Cherokee. It was a great big group at one long table, and I was sitting right across from Leonard who had just come back from taking a smoke break when he noticed that someone poured him a bit of red wine in a water glass. He reached for the bottle, gave me a wink, and filled the glass up to the top. We stayed a while and Leonard showed no signs of slowing down as he charmed us all and told stories. He would often sign books with the tag line "Be Cool". No doubt, he was the coolest. Ask anyone that ever met him, and I bet they'll tell you that Elmore Leonard was a prince of a guy. CM