October 11 is longtime Detroit-area writer Elmore Leonard’s birthday. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Leonard wrote some of the most influential crime fiction of the last forty years.
Born in New Orleans in 1925, Leonard graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1943, and then spent three years with the Seabees in the South Pacific. He attended the University of Detroit and was already working at an advertising agency when he graduated in 1950.
He got his start as a fiction writer turning out western stories in the 1950s. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, he honed a style of crime writing packed with hip dialogue and rapid-fire pacing, and became a favorite of moviemakers. Just a few of the crime films adapted from his films are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Jackie Brown (from Rum Punch), The Big Bounce and 52 Pick-Up, plus the westerns Hombre and 3:10 to Yuma. There are like a couple dozen of them, though, plus the TV shows Maximum Bob, Justified, and Karen Sisco.
Leonard’s signature style — fast pacing and a hip style — can be seen influencing a wide variety of crime films and TV shows (Pulp Fiction and The Sopranos come to mind) as well as many, many writers — Carl Hiaasen springing to mind as perhaps the most transparently Leonardesque among the many showing his influence. I think that just about modern neo-noir book or film with rapid-fire dialogue, violence and wry humor owes at least a passing nod to Leonard.