Edna Buchanan: From a Police Beat Columnist to a Pulitzer Prize Winner

Edna Buchanan_NovelSuspects“Gary Robinson died hungry.” So began Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and crime writer Edna Buchanan’s now-famous news story about a man who entered a fried chicken establishment wanting a three-piece box of fried chicken. Instead, after an altercation with the cashier, Robinson was shot by a security guard. Edna Buchanan’s eye-catching leads are a large part of what made her such an iconic journalist and later a successful novelist. But how did Edna Buchanan go from working as a police beat columnist to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writer of crime books? This is her story.

Edna Buchanan (née Rydzik) was born in 1939 in Paterson, New Jersey. At Montclair State College, Buchanan took a creative writing class and decided to become a writer. She first got into crime writing as a writer for the Miami Beach Sun in the early 1960sIn 1973, she became a police beat writer for the Miami Herald. For eighteen years, Buchanan covered crime stories for the Herald, covering over 5,000 violent deaths, with around 3,000 of those deaths being homicides. During her time with the Herald, she also covered several kidnappings, riots, fatal fires, and major plane crashes, among other high profile crimes and deaths.

Edna Buchanan_NovelSuspectsBuchanan soon became famous for her unconventional reporting style. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Buchanan never shied away from the gritty details of a case. She was relentless as reporter, hardly ever taking “no” for an answer. Buchanan kept such a steady eye on the Miami police that every officer knew her name and learned to expect her calls. When Buchanan would call up survivors and witnesses for a story and they would decline to comment, Buchanan would simply wait sixty seconds and the call back again, in the hopes that she would reach someone more open to giving the reporter the leads she needed.

And yet in spite of her persistent attitude and no-holds-barred writing style, people who know Buchanan also see her as a deeply empathetic and compassionate reporter, able to comfort interviewees and be understanding of their loss while also getting the answers she needed from them. In a New York Times book review, author Anne Rice described Buchanan as “Clearly a feminist heroine… A self-made woman with unabashed ideals and a healthy suspicion of anyone who tries to hide the truth, she is an individual to the core.” While Buchanan’s personality and ideals shone through her stories, the reporter also never shied away from the difficult truth. Buchanan’s reporting skills were recognized at the highest level when she received the Pulitzer Prize for General News Reporting in 1986.

These reporting strategies also set Buchanan up for her next move into writing crime novels and non-fiction books. Buchanan’s first book Carr: Five Years of Rape and Murder; From the Personal Account of Robert Frederick Carr III came out in 1979. This book was the unflinching account of serial rapist Robert Carr who left his family and went on a 5-year killing and raping spree before he was eventually caught. Once Carr was arrested, he gave his full confession to Edna Buchanan. Because Carr was so willing to open up to the reporter, Edna Buchanan’s first book became a rare look into the psyche of a criminal.

In 1988, Edna Buchanan left her job at the Miami Herald to fully focus on her career writing crime books. Her first crime novel, Nobody Lives Foreverfollows two Miami homicide detectives and was nominated for an Edgar Award. In 1992, Buchanan started her popular Britt Montero series with the novel Contents Under PressureThe series follows ace crime reporter Britt Montero. Like Edna Buchanan herself when she was a Miami crime reporter, Montero sleeps with a police scanner by her bedside and never lets go of a good story. The 10th book in the Britt Montero series, Dead Man’s Daughter, just came out in 2017.

Edna Buchanan has written 17 crime books in total since 1979, including true crime memoirs, The Corpse Has a Familiar Face and Never Let Them See You Cry, which loosely became the inspiration for two movies about Buchanan’s life, starring Elizabeth Montgomery. In 2017, Buchanan was the recipient of the Florida Humanities Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing. Buchanan’s journalism, crime books, and crime novels remain influential works in their respective genres to this day.