Two great American authors passed away this month. Albert Murray, a renowned novelist, essayist, and critic, died in his Harlem home at 97 years old on August 18 of this year. Elmore Leonard, novelist and screenwriter, died just two days later on August 20 at age 87. Both will be remembered for their substantial impact on American literature and culture.
Murray may be best remembered for his first book The Omni-Americans which received high critical praise, his writings and philosophies on jazz, and his friendship with novelist Ralph Ellison which seemed to define both men. As a member of the black intelligentsia, he criticized separatist ideologies, believing that the black experience was an essential part of American culture. To this end, he argued that America is a “nation of multicolored people,” not a nation to be viewed only in shades of black or white. For him, the true heart of American identity was in the blues.
Leonard too had a grasp for what truly made American culture, and is often noted for his uncanny ear for realistic dialog. Among his best known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Rum Punch, and 3:10 to Yuma, many of which have been adapted into films. He received many awards and honors during his lifetime, including the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award (2009). He spent his final years still writing in his Michigan home until the time of his death, with his last novel Raylan published in 2012.