R.I.P. Elmore Leonard, The ‘Dickens Of Detroit’

Elmore Leonard, the “Dickens of Detroit,” died this morning at 87. A prolific novelist and screenwriter, Leonard may have captured and defined the soul of his home city better than any travel writer.

When he began writing westerns in the 1950s, he could have relocated to Los Angeles. When his films began to attract major stars, he could have given up the hard-scrabble city for cushier surroundings. Yet Leonard stayed put.

He was born in New Orleans, but his family relocated to Detroit by the time he was nine. He attended school in the Motor City, later graduated from the University of Detroit, and started his writing career there in a spartan basement workspace. Many of his 46 novels were set there. When his character Jack Ryan (of Highland Park) served papers to a rock band live onstage, it was at the Masonic Temple of Detroit – 500 Temple St. When a scene in the film “Out of Sight” called for a boxing gym, Leonard took us to the Kronk Gym at 5555 McGraw St.

While he’d paint images of dusty western towns quite removed from Detroit, the city was never far from those saloons and open plains of 1950s Hollywood. It informed the snappy dialogue of his seedy characters and the urban feel of his tightly written work. The balance of black humor and danger he found in Detroit became a trademark of his work. It was evident in his films (“Get Shorty,” “Jackie Brown,” “3:10 to Yuma,”) and even his most recent work, the FX series, “Justified.”

Just last year he said that despite the poverty of the area, he couldn’t leave -– and he never did. He had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke earlier this month, but returned to his Bloomfield Village home where he died.

To see the scope of Leonard’s Detroit, check out the map below.
View Elmore Leonard’s Detroit in a larger map

Charles Dickens featured at new Museum of London exhibition

The Museum of London has opened a major new exhibition on one of the city’s greatest writers–Charles Dickens. Dickens and London celebrates Dickens’ 200th birthday looks at the relationship between the writer and the city he used as inspiration for many of his novels.

The exhibition recreates the sights and sounds of 19th century London, something the museum does very well for many eras. London 200 years ago was one of the greatest cities of the world, and one of the worst. The center of global commerce and culture, it was also home to grinding poverty and drug abuse. One item on display is Dickens’ notes from an opium den he used as inspiration for one of his scenes.

Dickens often wrote about the plight of the poor and he knew what he was talking about. When still a child, he had to work ten-hour shifts in a shoe polish factory while his father spent time in debtor’s prison.

The British Library in London is also marking the bicentennial with a small exhibition titled A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural. Dickens loved a good horror story and penned many, although another author once accused Dickens of plagiarism, an accusation that had some foundation in fact.

Dickens fans will also not want to miss the Charles Dickens Museum. Although Dickens only lived here from 1837-1839, the prolific author finished The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby in that time. Even if you’re not terribly interested in him, his house gives you a good idea of a moderately wealthy family home of the era.

Dickens and London will run until June 10, 2012.

Photo of Dickens with his two daughter courtesy Wikimedia Commons.