This article originally appeared on Absolute Michigan October 11, 2011.
Detroit author Elmore Leonard is celebrating his eighty-sixth birthday today (October 11, 2011). Leonard was born in New Orleans in 1925. He has made the Detroit area his home since 1934, when his family moved there. The city of Detroit often serves as the main character in his novels. As a result, fans often refer to Elmore Leonard as the ‘Dickens of Detroit.”
Leonard graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1943. He then immediately joined the Navy, where he served with the Seabees. After his service, he enrolled at the University of Detroit and graduated in 1950 with a degree in English and Philosophy. Leonard started his writing career as a copywriter at the Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency. Writing on the side, he was able to publish his first novel, The Bounty Hunters in 1953. In his early career, he focused on writing pulp Westerns, because that was what was selling at the time. Leonard eventually moved on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers. A large number of his books have been turned into movies or television programs.
Critics praise Leonard for his effective use of dialogue and the gritty realism in his books. His unique ear for dialogue and the ability to capture it on the page is rarely matched. Concise and plot driven, his stories are stuffed with colorful characters and tricky, often humorous plot twists. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” serves as Leonard’s writing mantra. He explains his success when advising aspiring writers by stating, “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” Stephen King has called him “the great American writer.”
Among Leonard’s best known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Mr. Majestyk, LaBrava, Rum Punch, Freaky Deaky and Killshot. In 2010, his short story “Fire In the Hole’ was the basis for the television series Justified. The Library of Michigan owns all of Leonard’s works in their Michigan Collection. Search ANSWER, the Library’s online catalog to locate works by Elmore Leonard.
You can check out a video where Elmore Leonard’s shares his tips for writers, but we’ll start you off with part 1 of a 4 part feature on Elmore Leonard from Emery King’s World Class Detroiters. Here’s part 2, part 3 and part 4!