Community Comment

MONDAY, OCT. 27, 2008, 7:46 A.M.

Upon the life and death of Tony Hillerman…

Good morning, Netizens...

One of my favorite American novelists, Tony Hillerman, died Sunday at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, The Associated Press reported. He was 83 and died of pulmonary failure, according to the press wires.

Hillerman became an award-winning novelist writing crime novels about the people he held most dear, the people of the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes of the Southwest. Even one of the protagonists of his novels, a Detective named Joe Leaphorn, had a pragmatic, disciplined mind that bridged the gaps between the fundamentalism of the Navajo world and that of the white world, all with a Masters Degree in anthropology and thus Hillerman incomparably taught his readers about Navajo mysticism while weaving great mysteries.

Anthony Grove Hillerman was born May 27, 1925, in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, and growing up on territorial lands of the Potawatomie Tribe, he went to St. Mary’s Academy, a school for Indian girls run by the Sisters of Mercy, and attended high school with Potawatomie children.

As a result of a tour of duty during World War II he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Returning home, he returned to college at the University of Oklahoma after which he married and took up a career in journalism. He was a crime reporter for The Borger News-Herald in the Texas Panhandle; city editor of The Morning Press-Constitution in Lawton, Okla.; a political reporter in Oklahoma City, and later bureau manager in Santa Fe for United Press International and executive editor of The Santa Fe New Mexican.

He eventually quit The New Mexican and the family pulled up stakes and moved to Albuquerque, where he enrolled at the University of New Mexico. He earned his master’s degree in 1966, joined the university’s journalism faculty, taught writing and ethnic courses and became chairman of the journalism department.

Formal honors came his way with his third book, “Dance Hall of the Dead” ( 1973), which won the Mystery Writers of America’s 1974 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery Novel. “Skinwalkers,” which is generally considered his breakthrough book, won the Western Writers of America’s Golden Spur Award in 1987. In 1991, after solidifying the Navajo Tribal Police series with “A Thief of Time” (his own favorite novel), “Talking God” and “Coyote Waits,” he received the Mystery Writers of America’s highest honor, its Grandmaster Award.

Perhaps the most personally satisfying award he received, however, was when he was awarded the status of Special Friend of the Dineh conferred on him in 1987 by the Navajo Nation for his honest, accurate portrayal of Navajo people and their culture. It was also a special source of pride to him that his books are still taught on reservation high schools and colleges.

He will be greatly missed, both by his readers and tribal members throughout our world.


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