Monday, October 27, 2008

R.I.P, Tony Hillerman

Any good journalism ultimately involves telling a story. What separates the artful from the mundane is the ability to find that nugget, that tiny detail that makes the story truly worth reading.
Tony Hillerman was never mundane.
Like millions of his fans, I was saddened to hear of his passing yesterday at age 83 in his beloved New Mexico.
The Navajo mysteries featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee, like "Dance Hall of the Dead," "Skinwalkers" and "A Thief of Time," have a prominent place on my bookshelf. They helped fuel a special kinship to the land during the trips I've made to The Rez and elsewhere in the Southwest where Hillerman's characters roamed.
Hillerman's voice was not that of a voyeur, but of someone with a reverence and unending fascination with the tribes who provided the backdrops for his absorbing tales. It's quite a legacy and a loss that will be felt in all corners of the literary world, not just the Four Corners in the Southwest.
Marilyn Stasio's obit in the Times reminded me that Hillerman first cut his teeth as a scribe, after he returned a wounded hero from the killing fields of Europe during World War II.
I'm proud to say we both have covering state government for UPI on our resumes, though he got to do it in Santa Fe, while I shivered through stark winters in Albany. He was destined to tell better, longer and more compelling stories than the wires would allow. It was a destiny that was amply fulfilled with each succeeding book.
As the Navajo would say, Hágoónee', Tony.

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