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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.

This comprehensive biography—written with the cooperation of the family—traces the rise of Tony Hillerman from his birth in the tiny hamlet of Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, to international fame and fortune for his beloved mysteries set on the Navajo Nation. But, as Tony Hillerman: A Life reveals, the author’s greatest achievement was not the writing of eighteen spellbinding mysteries. Rather it was his use of the popular genre to unlock the mystery of the Navajo culture for non-native Americans. Just as Mary Renault’s earlier novels did with Ancient Greece, Hillerman’s books introduced millions of readers to the Diné way of life in a respectful and compelling manner. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, Hillerman “reinvented the mystery novel as a venue for the exploration and celebration of Native American history, culture, and identity.”

 The book recounts Hillerman’s exceptionally engaging life and details the creation of the iconic police detectives drawing on an untapped collection of Hillerman’s papers, extensive interviews with his family and friends, research in archives of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington, DC, and travel in the Navajo Nation. Tony Hillerman intimately captures the author’s childhood during the Great Depression, his near-death experience in World War II, his work in the trenches of journalism, his time as an inspiring professor, and the blossoming of his writing career. The work explores how Hillerman’s novels dramatically and irrevocably broke the traditional formula for mysteries. The exhaustive research for the book also uncovers Hillerman’s affliction with PTSD and its connection to his enchantment with Navajo spirituality. The unflinching account of Hillerman’s life celebrates his creative powers as well as evaluates claims made toward the end of his life that he engaged in cultural appropriation.

Filled with never-before told stories, Tony Hillerman provides a timely appreciation of the work of the Edgar-winning author with more than 20 million copies of his books in print that will thrill his fans and introduce a new generation of readers to his significant body of work.

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“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