Alum author’s papers going to S. Carolina

Despite his curmudgeonly appearance in this VN file photo, author Elmore Leonard had a great sense of humor and liked to joke with UDM students when he returned to the McNichols campus.


Author Elmore Leonard’s name will forever live at this university, his alma mater.

His archives, however, will not.

The University of South Carolina Libraries will be the permanent home of the complete Elmore Leonard archives, it was announced Oct. 15.

“It is a tremendous archive in its completeness in terms of manuscripts, correspondence, books and translations. It has all of the materials that Elmore kept, including outlines of how his books were written,” Dean of Libraries Tom McNally said. “The key is that this is a research collection and it will lead to publication of books, articles and dissertations about Elmore Leonard.”

Leonard, who died in 2013 at age 87, was a 1950 graduate of the University of Detroit.

Though published internationally, he remained in the Metro Detroit area throughout his writing life.

His last event on the McNichols campus was on Feb. 27, 2013, when he and son Peter held a book signing and lecture.

The University of South Carolina is receiving an extensive amount of Leonard’s material:

  • 450 drafts of manuscripts, short stories and screenplays on his signature yellow paper;
  • all of his 45 novels;
  • his appointment book;
  • research files, magazine pieces, letters and photographs;
  • director’s chairs from movie sets;
  • his National Book Foundation award for distinguished contribution to American letters;
  • his personal desk and typewriter;
  • some of his Hawaiian shirts;
  • and a pair of his sneakers.

In total, over 150 boxes of items holding more than 2,400 linear feet of documents are going to Columbia, S.C.

Interestingly enough, Leonard has no ties to South Carolina.

So why is his archive going there and not here?

It’s simple, really.

In 2013, shortly before his death, Leonard and his son Peter toured the campus, where Leonard was accepting its Thomas Cooper Medal.

It was during that trip that Leonard saw the library’s collection of works by noteworthy authors Ernest Hemingway and George V. Higgins.

He was greatly impressed and on his flight back to Detroit told Peter that South Carolina was where he wanted his papers to go, according to a press release.

“Elmore was a major Hemingway fan,” said Peter Leonard in the press release. “He was the influence that got my dad to write.”

Leonard wrote numerous best-selling books that sold in the millions and were translated into a dozen-plus languages. His books resulted in movies like “Get Shorty” and “3:10 to Yuma,” as well as the TV series “Justified.”

According to Margaret Auer, UDM’s dean of University Libraries and Instructional Technology, UDM simply wasn’t capable of housing an archive of that magnitude.

“It would be wonderful for it to be at the university (UDM),” said Auer. “He was really dedicated to the university. He came on campus, he did workshops, he worked with students every term and he attended functions. But the reality is that we don’t have the space. We don’t have the right people in place or the right equipment.”

At one point UDM had some original Leonard documents until he asked for them back so that he could have the full collection. That way they could be preserved  in their entirety at the Library of Michigan.

According to Auer, as Leonard was in negotiations with the Library of Michigan for the acceptance of all of his documents, the department of history, arts and libraries was discontinued. Funding had been cut but Leonard had all his documents.

Auer said she later had a discussion with Leonard about the best place to locate his documents and South Carolina was one of them.

“It’s probably at its best location, just to preserve it for the future,” said Auer.

Now the Detroit icon’s archives will live on next to Hemingway and Higgins, by Leonard’s own choosing.