Elmore Leonard died this week at age 87, with more than forty novels and sixty years of publication behind him. Stephen King once called Elmore Leonard “the great American writer” — not crime writer, just writer — but Leonard was inclined to be self-effacing. “Literary writers,” he told Kurt Andersen, “tell practically everything. Because they like the sound of their voice the way they’re telling it. I don’t show my voice; you don’t hear me in my books.” Instead, his characters’ dialogue drove his stories — salty, blunt, funny, and real. That endeared him to directors like Quentin Tarantino, and Leonard’s novels were adapted for successful movies like Out of Sight, Get Shorty and Jackie Brown.
In 2005, Kurt spoke with Elmore Leonard after the publication of The Hot Kid, set in Oklahoma in the 1920s gangster heyday. Leonard himself was eight in 1934, when Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a hail of bullets. “There’s a picture of me standing next to an Oakland, pointing a gun at the camera, one foot on the running board. Which was an imitation of Bonnie Parker, because she had her foot on the front bumper of a car and a cigar in her mouth, holding a pistol — which was probably in every paper in the country in May of that year. I know that’s where I got it, and I’ve been cashing in on it for the last fifty years.”