Grafton, Sue (1940—)

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Grafton, Sue (1940—)

Along with fellow writers Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton has been credited with popularizing the mystery sub-genre of the female private eye. Although there have been female detectives almost from the beginnings of mystery fiction, in the past they were almost exclusively amateur sleuths rather than detectives for hire. The tough female private eye, written in the tradition of a Mike Hammer or a Philip Marlowe, was unheard of until the late 1970s. Women writers of this type of mystery were also rare. Due to the growing popularity of Grafton, Paretsky, and Muller, however, other authors have begun to introduce many new female detectives. However, Grafton's Kinsey Milhone remains among the most popular.

It now seems almost inevitable that Grafton would become a mystery writer. She was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of teacher Vivian Harnsberger and attorney, C. W. Grafton, himself a mystery writer of some note who had several books published in the 1940s and 1950s. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Louisville in 1961 with a major in English Literature. After graduation, Grafton worked in the medical field in various capacities while pursuing her writing. She also married twice and began a family that would eventually include three children.

Grafton's initial forays into novel writing were not in the mystery realm. Her first novel, Keziah Dane, was published in 1967. Her second novel, The Lolly Madonna War, published in 1969, was made into the motion picture Lolly-Madonna XXX in 1973, with Grafton co-writing the screenplay. This led to her early career as a writer for television. During that time she wrote episodes for several television programs such as Rhoda and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Grafton was also a prolific writer of made-for-television movies, such as Walking through Fire, for which she won a Christopher Award; the critically acclaimed Nurse, which starred Michael Learned; and Sex and the Single Parent. With third husband and writing partner, Steven Humphrey, she adapted two Agatha Christie novels for TV—A Caribbean Mystery and Sparkling Cyanide. It was the experience of working as a writer of television and movies that later made Grafton vow that no Kinsey Milhone novel would ever be used for a motion picture.

Although she was a successful screenwriter, Grafton was determined to leave Hollywood. She planned to try her hand at a mystery novel, as her father had forty years before, and she decided her main character would be a female private detective. Grafton based Kinsey Milhone largely on herself. In 1982 she began the alphabet mystery series with 'A' is for Alibi, for which she won an Anthony Award. She plans to continue the series through the letter Z and, at her current rate of one Milhone book a year, she should reach that goal about the same time she turns seventy years old. Grafton has won many awards since the first Milhone book, including three more Anthony Awards, a Shamus Award, and an American Mystery Award.

Sue Grafton has had an impact on television and its culture with her screenplays and television shows. However, it is with the popular Kinsey Milhone that she has continued to stretch not only the boundaries of mystery fiction, but also those of acceptable behavior for women, whether fictional or flesh and bone.

—Jill A. Gregg

Further Reading:

Kaufman, Natalie Hevener, and Carol McGinnis Kay. "G" is for Grafton: The World of Kinsey Milhone. New York, Henry Holt, 1997.

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Grafton, Sue (1940—)

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