The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

A tribute to writer Tony Hillerman

Nov 3, 2008

Author Tony Hillerman died on October 26 at the age of 83, but his colorful books will live on.

His books are widely available in public libraries. Any and all are wonderful to read. He is best known for his series of mysteries describing Navaho Indian life.

Hillerman was fascinated with and deeply respectful of Native American culture. His books illuminate the experiences and landscapes of the American Southwest. His Navaho characters are so well described and so memorable, they feel like old friends.

Hillerman was born during the Great Depression – in a small dust bowl town in Oklahoma. He said in his 2001 memoir Seldom Disappointed, that life in his home town “was not complicated by any possibility of getting rich.”

He and his brother went to the only school in town – an Indian boarding school for girls. Hillerman himself was not Native American but he spent his life immersed in and devoted to Native American culture.

Hillerman explains that his father died when the author was still young – “having worked himself to death” trying to scratch out a living during the depression.

One of the things Hillerman remembers about his father is that he had a “tiny bookshelf.” And of his father’s books, what Hillerman remembered best were his father’s “pro-workingman, pro-union, anticapitalist” books.

Hillerman’s memoir is filled with great stories. Some of the most memorable are his Catch-22 like stories of his WWII experiences that show Army “intelligence” to be an oxymoron.

So pick up a Tony Hillerman book. You’ll learn fascinating things, you’ll enjoy a compelling story, and you’ll laugh at Hillerman’s humor which jabs at the rich and powerful.