This week, the Mystery Writers of America announced it’s special awards, to be presented in the spring at the Edgar Awards banquet along with the competitive prizes. All the recipients of these awards–the Ellery Queen for outstanding contribution to editing, the Raven for outstanding contributions to the field, and the Grand Master (s), for an outstanding body of work (like a Lifetime Achievement Award)–are always highly deserving; the first Grand Master, for example, was Agatha Christie, and over the years has included such names as Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Ellery Queen, Ross McDonald, Stephen King, and James Ellroy. This year, the Board of Directors of the Mystery Writers of America chose two Grand Masters, Max Allen Collins and Ellen Hart.
Ellen Hart is not only an amazing crime writer who deserves this honor, she is also the first out lesbian author of lesbian crime fiction to be recognized by the premier organization in our field with the highest honor in our field.
From the press release issued by the Mystery Writers of America:
Upon learning that she was named a Grand Master, Hart said. “A writer’s stock-in-trade is imagination. I’ve always felt mine was pretty good, but never in a million years did I ever think winning the MWA Grand Master award was a possibility. I’m stunned, grateful, and profoundly honored.”
Ellen Hart is the author of thirty-two crime novels. She is the six-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, the four-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, and the three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award for mystery. Ellen has taught crime writing for seventeen years through the Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation.
Previous Grand Masters include Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.
I’ve known Ellen’s work for over twenty years, and have known Ellen personally for almost seventeen or so. Ellen is from Minneapolis, and her outstanding Jane Lawless series is set there. I moved to Minneapolis to live with Paul in 1996; and this was around the time I decided to start taking writing seriously (this was in no smart part because Paul believed in me). We lived in Uptown Minneapolis (ironically we moved to uptown New Orleans from there), and right around the corner from our apartment was a mall at the corner of Lake and Hennepin called Calhoun Square, and inside that mall was a Borders. I used to go there every other week and buy books, and they had a huge gay and lesbian section. I had already decided that I wasn’t meant to be a horror or a literary writer, and wanted to focus on writing gay crime novels. It was at this Borders that I discovered both Ellen Hart and R. D Zimmerman (locals), and many other gay/lesbian crime writers and their books. I never met either Ellen or R.D. while I lived there, but it was at that Borders that I first met Felice Picano.
I think the first Jane Lawless I read was Faint Praise, and after that I was addicted.
Over the years I’ve gotten to know Ellen, and am proud to call her a friend. It was Ellen who got me to join Sisters in Crime, and her graciousness and her kindness over the years has been something I’ve, as a writer have tried to aspire to be more like. She so deserves this honor, and I can’t even begin to express how thrilled I am for her, and how happy this has made me; because in recognizing Ellen they not only recognized her for her brilliance as a writer, the longevity and consistent quality of it, but they’ve also, for the first time as a Grand Master and only a second time over all, recognized the sub-sub-subgenre of LGBTQI crime fiction. (The first time was when John Morgan Wilson won the Edgar for Best First Novel for his first Ben Justice novel back in the 1990’s.)
As a writer of gay crime fiction…well, I can’t even begin to say how impactful this recognition of Ellen is for me, personally. This is recognition from the Mystery Writers of America that LGBTQI crime fiction not only has a seat at the table, but belongs there.
It is something I never thought I would see happen in my lifetime; every step forward is amazing.
Now young, aspiring LGBTQI crime writers can actually dream of being MWA Grand Masters.
And go ON with your bad, deserving self, Ellen!