Tony Hillerman, author of many novels including the Leaphorn/Chee mystery
series, died in October 2008 at the age of 83.
A past president of the Mystery Writers of America and recipient of their Edgar and Grand Master Awards, his other honors include the Center for the American Indian's Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for the best novel set in the West, the Navajo Tribe's Special Friend Award, the National Media Award from the American Anthropological Association, the Public Service Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Nero Wolfe Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book, an honorary life membership in the Western Literature Association, and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policiére.
In addition to his election to Phi Beta Kappa, Tony Hillerman was named Doctor of Humane Letters at Arizona State University and at Oregon's Portland State University.
He lived with his wife, Marie, in Albuquerque, New Mexico up until his death. He is survived by Marie and six children.
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An Interview with Tony Hillerman
In your novels, how are elements of Navajo cultural lore
woven into the mystery plot?
I always have one or two, sometimes more, Navajo (or other tribes') cultural elements in mind when I start a plot. Sometimes some of them don't work or fade out. In Thief of Time, for example, I wanted to make readers aware of Navajo attitude toward the dead, respect for burial sites, etc.
What part does setting play?
I always try to make the setting fit the story I have in mind. In Hunting Badger, for example, I needed an abandoned mine shaft on the margins of the Navajo-Southern Ute territories because I wanted to revive memories of the troubles between those two tribes and the legend of a Ute warrior who raided the Navajos and how he was finally disposed of. I got a lot of help from the U.S. Geological Survey on that one, and spent a lot of time driving over very bad roads on the Arizona-Utah borders. I have always felt that making the reader away of the vast emptiness of our high desert is important to making the story work.
What are the origins of your beloved characters, Leaphorn and Chee?
Leaphorn began in my first...
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