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Elmore Leonard became interested in writing in 1935, after reading a serialization of All Quiet on the Western Front in the Detroit Times. Touched by the story, he wrote a play based on the novel for his fifth-grade classroom, using the desks as "No-Man's-Land." In high school he wrote a story or two for the school paper but spent most of his time reading. After graduating in 1943 Leonard joined the navy and served with a Seabee unit in the South Pacific. He left the service in 1946 and enrolled at the University of Detroit. At the university he began writing again, entering short story contests and placing third in one of them. He graduated in 1950 with a major in English and philosophy.

In 1949, while still in college, Leonard joined the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency. He also began writing in earnest during this period. He had his first success in 1951 when Argosy magazine published his short story "Trail of the Apache." Other stories—all westerns—followed in such publications as Zane Grey Western and The Saturday Evening Post. In 1953 Leonard published his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, followed by four more over the next eight years. Between 1951 and 1961 he published 30 short stories, five novels, and made two sales to the movies. When his novel Hombre was chosen as one of the best westerns of all time by the Western Writers of America in 1961, Leonard finally felt confident enough to quit the advertising agency and devote all of his time to writing.

As the market for westerns began to dry up, however, Leonard found himself writing educational films for Encyclopaedia Britannica, industrial films for corporations and advertising and sales material. He switched from westerns to crime with the publication of The Big Bounce. During the 1970s and 1980s he developed a devoted following with his novels Fifty-two Pickup, City Primeval, Stick and LaBrava. When Glitz was published in 1985, it became Leonard's "breakout" bestseller; he began to receive long-overdue attention, including a Newsweek cover story. Each of his novels since then—Bandits, Touch, Freaky Deaky, Killshot, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, Rum Punch, Pronto, Riding the Rap, Out of Sight and Cuba Libre —has been a national bestseller as well as a critical success.

Three of Leonard's books have been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America: The Switch, nominated for Best Original Paperback Novel of 1978; Split Images, for Best Novel of 1981; and LaBrava, which won for Best Novel in 1983. Maximum Bob was also awarded the first annual International Association of Crime Writers' North American Hammett Prize in 1991. In 1992 the Mystery Writers gave Leonard the Grand Master Award, which "is presented only to individuals who, by a lifetime of achievement, have proved themselves preeminent in the craft of the mystery and dedicated to the advancement of the genre."

Success has followed Leonard to Hollywood as well. Released in October 1995, "Get Shorty," starred John Travolta and was an immediate critical and commercial success; the same is true of "Out of Sight," which starred George Clooney and was released in June 1998. Award-winning director Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction") directed "Jackie Brown," a film based on Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, in December 1997. Tarantino also plans to bring three more Leonard novels to the silver screen: Bandits, Freaky Deaky and Killshot. Leonard's 34th novel, Cuba Libre, is a story of high adventure, history, romance and nefarious undertakings in Cuba. The film rights to the novel, which was released in February 1998, were bought by Joel and Ethan Coen of "Fargo" fame. "Maximum Bob" was an ABC-TV miniseries starring Beau Bridges.

In September 1998, Dell published The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories and also issued a trade paperback trilogy of Elmore Leonard’s Western Roundups (#1, #2, #3), one each month, from October through December 1998. Delacorte Press will publish Be Cool, the follow-up to Get Shorty, in February 1999.

A full-length biography, Elmore Leonard, by David Geherin, was published by Continuum as part of their Literature and Life series. Leonard was also the subject of an hour-long documentary produced in 1991 by the BBC, entitled "Elmore Leonard's Criminal Record"; the documentary has aired in the United States on The Learning Channel.

Elmore Leonard is the father of five children and the grandfather of nine. He and his wife live in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan.

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