Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 2012



Novelist Elmore Leonard Receives Lifetime Achievement Award at
the 2012 National Book Award Ceremony

Elmore Leonard, image by Dermot Cleary.The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, presented its 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Elmore Leonard in recognition of his outstanding achievement in fiction writing. For over five decades, Leonard’s westerns, crime novels, serialized novels, and stories have enthralled generations of readers. Author Martin Amis presented the Medal to Leonard at the 63rd National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani, Wall Street, in New York City on Wednesday, November 14, 2012. Television and radio host, political and pop culture commentator, journalist, and actor Faith Salie hosted the event.

Today’s announcement coincides with the announcement by The Library of America that it will publish a three-volume edition of Leonard’s crime novels in its esteemed series beginning in fall 2014. National Book Foundation Executive Director Harold Augenbraum said of the selection, “For a half-century, Elmore Leonard has produced vibrant literary work with an inimitable writing style. We are particularly pleased that as we at the National Book Foundation recognize his achievement, the Library of America—which publishes, and keeps permanently in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing—has announced that Leonard will join other great American authors in its literary pantheon.”

Leonard is the twenty-fifth recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement. Previous recipients include John Ashbery, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gore Vidal, and Tom Wolfe.

Elmore Leonard Photo by Dermot Cleary.

Elmore Leonard

Born in New Orleans, Elmore Leonard began his literary career by writing Western stories on the side while he worked for an ad agency. From the 1950s to the early 1960s, he wrote more than thirty short stories, including “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Tall T,” and five western novels, including Hombre (Ballantine Books, 1961). Leonard published his first crime novel, The Big Bounce (Fawcett) in 1969, and around the same time entered into the world of screenwriting, which allowed him to pursue writing novels full time.

In 1984, LaBrava (HarperTorch, 1983) won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. The following year, Glitz (HarperCollins, 1985) appeared on the New York Times bestseller list.

Over the next decade, several of his books were adapted and made into successful movies, including Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1995 film “Get Shorty,” based on Leonard’s novel of the same title (Delacorte Press, 1990); Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” based on Leonard’s Rum Punch (Delacorte Press, 1992); and Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” based on Leonard’s book of the same title (Delacorte Press, 1996).

In 2007, William Morrow published Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, a 96-page volume that has become famous among writers and critics.

At the age of 80, Leonard published his fortieth novel, The Hot Kid (William Morrow, 2005), as well as a 14-part serial novel for The New York Times Magazine entitled Comfort to the Enemy. In late 2010, he published Djibouti (William Morrow), a story set in the world of Somali pirates and home grown Al Qaeda terrorists as seen through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker. Inspired by ”Justified,” an original TV series on FX based on Leonard’s novella Fire in the Hole (2000), he wrote his forty-fifth novel, Raylan (HarperCollins, 2012), named after the protagonist in “Justified.” Parts of this novel have been incorporated into the second and third seasons of the show. 

In 1992, Leonard was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. In 2006, he received the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger lifetime achievement award in England, and The Raymond Chandler Award at the Courmayeur Noir In Festival in Italy. He received The F. Scott Fitzgerald Award in 2008 and the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

Leonard lives in Bloomfield Village, Michigan. He has five children, twelve grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.