Looking back on the time and place of his childhood, (Anthony) Tony (Grove) Hillerman sees in it an augury of the career as Southwest storyteller for which he is now best known. Born on 27 May 1925 in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, where the population at the time was about sixty, he grew up in a culture without television, and what’s more in a town without a library and without a movie house. The nearest movie house was in Konawa, Oklahoma, open just once a week for those who could afford to attend. For Hillerman’s family, movies were too expensive, and sometimes even batteries for the radio were beyond the budget. Such a background was hardly promising for a writer, it might seem, but, as Hillerman remembers it, being deprived of modern tools for communication encouraged the skills of oral storytelling. ‘‘People sat on front porches, or on the benches which lined the front of my dad’s general store, and told tales. A lot of value was attached to being good at it. In Sacred Heart, Oklahoma, being a storyteller was a good thing to be’’ (Winks 129).
If hard times do encourage people to dig deep within themselves for resources to withstand poverty and adversity, then Tony Hillerman had plenty of motivation. Sacred Heart sat within the western dust bowl impoverished by soil erosion. The Hillermans—mother Lucy Grove Hillerman, father August Alfred Hillerman, three children of whom Tony was the youngest—lived on a farm without indoor plumbing, electricity,