Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman
Detective novelist Tony Hillerman was an award-winning writer best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mysteries set in the four corners area of Arizona and New Mexico.

He was born Anthony Grove Hillerman in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma in 1925. As a child, he attended St. Mary’s Academy, a boarding school for Native American girls. He and his brother Barney were among the few farm boys at the school in Sacred Heart, and he grew up with the Native American boys as his best friends. During the depression, his father ran a local grocery store and had a nearby farm.

Hillerman was a decorated hero of World War II wounded in action in 1945. He earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.

After the war, he attended Oklahoma University receiving a BA in 1948. He became a journalist and editor until 1963. He then enrolled in the University of New Mexico, where he earned a Master’s Degree. He joined the journalism faculty at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he taught from 1966 – 1987. He served as department chair from 1976 to 1981. He and his wife lived in Albuquerque and raised six children.

Over the years, Hillerman wrote both fiction and nonfiction. At the time of his death in October 2008, he had written over thirty books. The Blessing Way, published in 1970, was his first fiction novel, and introduced Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. Soon Jim Chee joined Leaphorn as beloved characters in the popular Navajo Tribal Police series. The eighteen novels in the series were best known for the cultural details about the Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo tribes.

Tony Hillerman often noted he was heavily influenced by the works of Arthur Upfield, an Australian writer of detective fiction featuring Detective-inspector Napoleon (Bony) Bonaparte of the Queensland Police Force. Hillerman and Upfield are credited with the start of the tribal mystery genre.

Hillerman has earned numerous awards for his writing including the MWA Grand Master Award, and the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friends of the Dine Award.

The prolific writer also published photo books and children’s books along with a large number of essays, articles, and non-fiction books.

The Dark Wind, filmed in the early 1990’s with Lou Diamond Phillips in the lead role, went directly to DVD. Three other novels developed for PBS’s Mystery! are available on DVD; Skinwalkers in 2002, Coyote Waits in 2003, and A Thief in Time in 2004.

Reading the Tribal series in sequence shows the development of Tony Hillerman as a fiction writer. Loyal readers will miss this beloved author.

Buy The Dark Wind at

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Edie Dykeman. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Edie Dykeman. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Edie Dykeman for details.