“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.” – Tony Hillerman
Born on this date in 1925, Hillerman, who died in 2008, has always been one of my favorite authors. A writer of regional Native American detective novels and non-fiction works, he was best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mysteries featuring two iconic police officers – Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Several of his books have been adapted as big-screen and television movies, including A Dark Wind and the multiple-award winner A Thief of Time.
A native of Oklahoma, Hillerman gravitated to New Mexico after World War II, where he was a highly decorated combat veteran. Starting as a journalist, he worked out of Santa Fe, and then moved to Albuquerque where he both wrote for newspapers and earned a master’s degree in writing. It was while covering crime news that he met a sheriff who became the model for his Navajo cop Joe Leaphorn and sparked an idea for his first book The Blessing Way.
A consistently bestselling author, he wrote 18 books in his Navajo series and more than 30 books total, among them a memoir and several about the Southwest, its beauty and its history. Given numerous awards, he said two of the most meaningful were one from the Navajo Nation and another from the Department of the Interior, recognizing his attention to Native culture and his encouragement for maintaining nature and the land.
Also a writing professor for many years, he said his best advice to writers was awareness of who they were writing for. “Remember, he advised, "you write for both yourself and your audience, who are usually better educated and at least as smart as you are.”
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