“Hillerman Country” has long been a familiar term among the digital portal’s fellows, New Mexico residents, and fans all over the world. It evokes the canyons and mesas of the Navajo Reservation and the northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona high desert landscapes, but anyone who has read a Hillerman mystery knows that when the sun goes down on the enchanted terrain a different kind of scenery emerges, one that requires a raising of the gaze upwards.
As summer advances toward the solstice in late June, we on the Hillerman team are mentally projecting our bodies out into the terrain that our imaginations roam, thanks to Tony Hillerman. Although a significant portion of Hillerman’s Navajo detective series occurs in urban environments around the U.S., what the novels are best known for is their evocation of Southwest landscapes, landscapes into which he and his wife Marie would disappear whenever he encountered writer’s block.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of working on Hillerman’s third novel in his Navajo detective series,LISTENING WOMAN, and this semester, I have been in the throes of THE DARK WIND, the fifth novel in the series.
On February 24, Ann Massmann, a valued member of the University of New Mexico community, died after a long struggle with cancer. An archivist and activist, Ann joined the Center for Southwest Research in 1995, where her research interests led to her collaborative work on Native American outreach initiatives, both through her work as the head of Public Services for the Anderson Reading Room, as well as her membership on the Society of American Archivists Native Americans Roundtable.
In his 2001 memoir, SELDOM DISAPPOINTED, Tony Hillerman (1925-2008) recalls the “life-changing miracle” that was meeting his future wife, Marie Elizabeth Unzner. “All else… [was] trivial,” writes Hillerman. In October 1947, Hillerman attended a dance at the university’s Newman Center, where he saw a slender, laughing woman with enchanting eyes. Unable to stop thinking about her, he offered to help her with her English composition assignments (she was pursuing a double major in microbiology and education).