George P. Pelecanos grew up in the Mount Pleasant area of Washington, D.C., and in Silver Spring, Maryland. The son of Greek immigrants, he began working at a young age at his father’s lunch counter. Marked by a strong work ethic that he attributes to his Greek American roots, Pelecanos worked at a variety of jobs—stock boy, shoe salesman, bartender, consumer electronics salesman, and film producer—before becoming a full-time writer. He received a bachelor’s degree in film studies in 1980 from the University of Maryland.
While studying at the University of Maryland, Pelecanos took a class on hard-boiled detective fiction that changed the course of his life. Being exposed to writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler instilled in him a love of the genre that would lay the groundwork for his literary career. It would also leave him with a voracious appetite for books, as his professor, Charles Misch, got him into the habit of reading at least two books a week. Like so many of his characters, Pelecanos often, in interviews, riffs on his favorite books of the moment, bringing up key works by contemporaries such as Vicki Hendricks and Daniel Woodrell and classics by David Goodis and Newton Thornburg. His early life is marked by a vibrant love of film and music, two other media that have served to shape his life and career.
At the age of thirty-one, Pelecanos quit his well-paying general manager job with appliance dealer Bray & Scarff and pursued writing full time. The loosely autobiographical A Firing Offense (1992) was his first book. Pelecanos sent the completed manuscript to only one publisher—St. Martin’s Press—and though it was a year before he heard back, the book was accepted for publication. After this initial success, he continued to publish books at the rate of about one a year. He began to receive wide recognition in the mid-1990’s, as books such as The Big Blowdown (1996) and The Sweet Forever (1998) won for him prestigious awards. During this time, Pelecanos also worked as a film producer for Circle Releasing, a company best known for producing the early films of Joel and Ethan Coen. In 2002, Pelecanos began working as a story editor/writer for David Simon’s Home Box Office series The Wire (began in 2002), gaining even more critical acclaim.