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George Pelecanos: Greek American Bestselling Crime Novelist
George Pelecanos published his first novel in 1992 and is now the author of nineteen novels set in and around Washington, D.C. Pelecanos’ most recent work is a collection of short stories and a novella titled The Martini Shot. He has been the recipient of the Raymond Chandler award in Italy, the Falcon award in Japan, and the Grand Prix Du Roman Noir in France. In Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King wrote that Pelecanos is “perhaps the greatest living American crime writer.” Pelecanos would like to note that Mr. King used the qualifier “perhaps.”
He was a producer, writer, and story editor for the acclaimed HBO dramatic series, The Wire, winner of the Peabody Award and the AFI Award. He was nominated for an Emmy for his writing on that show. He was a writer and co-producer on the World War II miniseries The Pacific, and an executive producer and writer on David Simon’s HBO dramatic series Treme, shot in New Orleans.
Has your Greek heritage influenced your writing?
There are so many ways to answer that, and not in the romantic sense. Greeks love to tell stories, so naturally I liked to dream up stories myself. I grew up in an extended family, some of whom were immigrants. They were very excited to be here in America. They loved this country and they loved its history. My grandmother, for example, was formally uneducated but she could name all of the American presidents, in order. Greeks love the myth of American Westerns, so I grew up watching Westerns on TV with my dad and grandfather, and developed a love for them and that kind of storytelling. And they loved to talk about Washington, their adopted city. And, of course, I had the experience of growing up as an outsider, which is helpful in what I do. All of these things had a profound effect on me as writer.
Have you read Greek literature? Who is your favorite Greek author?
Uh, Homer? Does he count? Homer’s “pretty” good. As in, all modern stories are rooted in Homer. On a camping trip to Australia and New Zealand, many years ago, I had Nikos Kazantzakis’ Report to Greco in my backpack. That was a struggle for my young mind but worth the effort. My favorite Greek writer is A.I. Bezzerides, who wrote the novel Long Haul, among many others, and was, most famously, the screenwriter on the ultimate noir film Kiss me Deadly. Bezzerides was a populist and contemporary of Steinbeck and John Fante. He was the first great Greek American fiction writer.
George Pelecanos with Archbishop Demetrios at the San Diego Leadership 100 Conference where he was guest speaker
Do you visit Greece? What do you cherish the most from your Greek heritage?
I was in Greece this past December on business, but it is always for pleasure. As for my heritage, I am most grateful to Greece for giving me the gift of my family and my friends.
From Greece in America Newsletter, Embassy of Greece in Washington DC.