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Tony Hillerman: A Life

Coming in October from the University of Oklahoma Press

The first major biography of the ground-breaking mystery writer Tony Hillerman who created the unforgettable Navajo Police detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

The author of eighteen spellbinding detective novels set on the Navajo Nation, Tony Hillerman simultaneously transformed a traditional genre and unlocked the mysteries of the Navajo culture to an audience of millions. His best- selling novels added Navajo Tribal Police detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee to the pantheon of American fictional detectives.

Tony Hillerman: A Life offers a balanced portrait of Hillerman’s personal and professional life and provides a timely appreciation of his work. In intimate detail, the book captures the author’s early years in Depression-era Oklahoma; his near-death experience in World War II; his sixty-year marriage to Marie; his family life, including six children, five of them adopted; his work in the trenches of journalism; his affliction with PTSD and its connection to his enchantment with Navajo spirituality; and his ascension as one of America’s best-known author of mysteries. Further, the biography reveals the almost accidental invention of Hillerman’s iconic detective Joe Leaphorn and the circumstances that led to the addition of Jim Chee as his partner.

Hillerman’s novels were not without controversy. Hillerman examines the charges of cultural appropriation leveled at the author toward the end of his life. Yet, for many readers, including many Native Americans, Hillerman deserves critical acclaim for his knowledgeable and sensitive portrayal of Diné (Navajo) history, culture, and identity.

At the time of Hillerman’s death, more than 20 million copies of his books were in print, and his novels inspired Robert Redford to adapt several of them to film and now Redford, along with George R.R. Martin and director Chris Eyre, are making a new television series based on Hillerman’s books.

Filled with never-before-told anecdotes and fresh insights, Tony Hillerman will thrill the author’s fans and awaken new interest in his life and literary legacy.


“As readable as a novel.”
—The Economist

“Two of the most significant writers of their generation, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, are described by Morris in his evocative, lively volume about how differently they emerged from the crucible of WWI…Morris’s narrative demonstrates how, despite jealousies and differences, the two men found common ground…Dos Passos will be the less recognizable name to most readers, and Morris does a great service by reinserting him into the picture of post-WWI American writers.”
Publishers Weekly
“Morris has written a fast-paced, engrossing biography, weaving the details of Payne’s personal and infinitely intriguing professional life against the backdrop of 20th-century race relations, the civil rights movement and Cold War anticolonialism. . . Morris’s fine biography shows that through Ethel Payne’s life, the black press helped change America and the world.”
New York Times Book Review

“A riveting biography of a groundbreaking African American journalist . . . In James McGrath Morris’s compelling biography Eye on the Struggle, this ‘first lady of the black press’ finally gets her due.”
O Magazine
“Well-researched. . . . Reads like a novel. . . . Morris paints a vivid picture, portraying his subject as an ambitious, hotheaded, at times violent, often charitable man; a perfectionist, shrewd in matters of business yet cold in matters of the heart.
The New York Times Book Review

“An excellent book. . . . There have been other biographies of Pulitzer, most notably W.A. Swanberg’s published in 1967, but James McGrath Morris’s is the best. It is authoritative, lucid and fair to its complicated subject.”
Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Chapin was quite a characrter, and Mr. Morris describes him with verve and an eye for colorful detail (not to mention occasional breathlessness) that match the riproaring tabloid era he lived in.”
The New York Times

“Morris’s impressive achievement will enthrall readers.”
Publishers Weekly

“James McGrath Morris’s well-researched narrative has the pace and detail of an engrossing historical novel.”
Boston Herald
“An impressively researched history of a vital, neglected aspect of prison culture.”
Punishment & Society

“Belongs in the permanent collection of anyone interested in prisons or journalism.”
The Angolite
Kindle Single available from Amazon
Kindle Single available from Amazon