Leonard was born in Louisiana in 1925 but Leonard’s father worked for General Motors and the family moved frequently, ultimately settling in Detroit in 1934. Leonard graduated from high school and joined the Navy in 1943. He served for 3 years during World War II then enrolled in University of Detroit in 1946. After his graduation in 1950, Leonard worked for the Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency though he was writing on the side during this time.
Leonard originally found success publishing pulp western novels and his first major success was the short story “Trail of the Apache,” published in Argosy in 1951. Leonard’s first 5 novels and over 30 short stories are westerns. Leonard eventually shifted to crime novels in the 1960s and in 1984 Leonard published La Brava, winning the 1984 Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Novel. In 1985, Leonard published Glitz, his first New York Times Best Seller.
Leonard’s novels have been adapted for film and television multiple times, including Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Rum Punch, titled “Jackie Brown”; “Get Shorty” and “Be Cool” starring John Travolta as the character Chili Palmer and the FX television adaptation of Leonard’s novels featuring his character Raylan Givens, “Justified” starring Timothy Olyphant.
Often referred to as the “Dickens of Detroit,” Leonard is esteemed for his realistic and concise description of characters, setting and dialogue. In 2001, Leonard published his own “Ten Rules for Writing.” Still writing, Leonard died August 23, 2013 at the age of 87.
The Elmore Leonard Archive contains the papers related to Leonard’s personal and professional life. The majority of the collection is comprised of drafts, manuscripts and typescripts of Leonard’s novels, short stories and screen adaptations and the research and notes related to the writing and publication of these works, including unpublished works. Also included in the collection are personal and professional correspondence, legal and contractual documents related to Leonard’s career, biographical information related to Leonard and the Leonard family and realia related to Leonard’s writing career, including typewriters, director’s chairs and awards.
The Elmore Leonard Archive is open for research and the finding aid to the collection can be accessed by following the link on the left.