Essay Abstracts on the Work of Elmore Leonard

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Charles J. Rzepka/Boston University
contact email: 

Call for Articles


for an anthology or special journal issue of critical essays on 


Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)


One of America’s finest crime writers, Elmore Leonard was extolled by novelist Martin Amis as the closest thing America has “to a national novelist.” And Amis is not alone: other distinguished admirers include Saul Bellow, Ann Beattie, Walker Percy, and former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Over a span of six decades Leonard wrote forty-five books—eight of them westerns, thirty-five crime novels, as well as a satire on organized religion and a children’s book—along with dozens of short stories and screenplays. His work reflects the rapidly changing culture of postwar America well into the twenty-first century, and his cast of characters spans so wide a range of our nation’s classes, races, ethnicities, and occupations—not to mention its psychopathologies—that one reviewer dubbed him “the Dickens of Detroit.” Leonard’s sensitivity to the spoken word shapes not only how his characters converse, but also how they think: he was a master of free indirect discourse, the depiction of a character’s train of thought in the third person.


The academy has yet to recognize fully the aesthetic, intellectual, and philosophical challenges posed by Leonard’s writing and screen-work. His critical bibliography is, for this reason, relatively short. Since the author’s death, however, his enormous output has begun to attract more serious interest among scholars. In 2013, Charles Rzepka’s Being Cool: the Work of Elmore Leonard offered a detailed examination of the emergence and development of the author’s dominant themes over the course of his life and career. The following year, the Library of America published the first of what would become, by 2017, three volumes containing Leonard’s best-known crime novels, and there is talk of a fourth devoted to his westerns. In 2015, Justified and Philosophy: Shoot First, Think Later, a book of essays focused on the Leonard-inspired TV show Justified, engaged with the moral and legal issues raised by the FX series. A special session on Leonard’s work, “Elmore Leonard: Kids, Killers, Comedy,” was held at the 2016 conference of the MLA, and a complete annotated bibliography of the author’s writings is currently underway based on the material in the Leonard archive, now housed in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of South Carolina. The archive comprises some 2400 linear feet of material.


This call for articles is motivated by the conviction that the time has come to make Leonard’s body of work—in print and on screen—a regular presence in serious writing about crime, meriting the close attention, careful analysis, and theoretical sophistication of our best critics, both in and out of the academy.


Abstracts of up to 500 words are welcome, due March 15, 2018. Formal proposals to publishers and journals will then go out, setting a tentative deadline of November 30, 2018 for submitting finished essays of 6,000 to 8,000 words. Abstracts and essays should be sent to the editor, Charles Rzepka, at Anyone wishing to receive feedback on their ideas for an essay, including guidance on criticism and information on relevant books, stories, characters, or plot lines in Leonard’s corpus, is encouraged to send queries to the editor at any time. 


Here is a list of proposed topics. It is not exhaustive, by any means:


--Leonard and postwar western noir

--Photography and film

--Costume and identity

--Leonard and Bildung

--Catholic and other religious themes

--Leonard and postwar philosophy

--Race, voice, and “stereo”-type

--The Alcoholic in Leonard’s fiction

--Magic, channeling, and the paranormal

--Mass mediation, history, fact

--Leonard’s westerns and his “eastern western” crime fiction

--Leonard and the DSMMD

--Leonard’s bad girls

--Specularity and doppelgangers

--Is there a “Code” in Leonard’s work?

--Cain, Hemingway, Bissell, Higgins, and other influences

--Leonard and postwar feminism

--Leonard’s sense of place

--Story to screen, and vice versa

--Explosions, heights, baseball, and other recurrent topoi

--Class lines in Leonard’s fiction

--Leonard’s narrativity

--Labor and Leonard’s work ethic

--Leonard’s humor, its source and impact