V I Warshawski’s Sara ParetskyDecember 4th, 2011
Before there was Lisbeth Salander or Stephanie Plum, there was V I Warshawski. Sara Paretsky revolutionized the mystery world in 1982 when she introduced V.I. in Indemnity Only. By creating a female investigator who uses her wits as well as her fists, Paretsky challenged a genre in which women typically were either vamps or victims. Hailed by critics and readers, Indemnity Only was followed by twelve more best-selling Warshawski novels. The New York Times writes that Paretsky “always makes the top of the list when people talk about female operatives,” while Publishers Weekly says, “Among today’s PIs, nobody comes close to Warshawski.”
Called “passionate” and “electrifying,” V.I. reflects her creator’s own passion for social justice. As a contributor to the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers, and a speaker at the Library of Congress and Oxford University, Paretsky is an impassioned advocate for those on society’s margins. After chairing the school’s first Commission on the Status of Women as a Kansas undergraduate, Paretsky worked as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side during the turbulent race riots of 1966. More recently, Paretsky served with then-state senator Obama on the board of Thresholds, which serves Chicago’s mentally ill homeless. She has mentored teens in Chicago’s most troubled schools, and works closely with literacy and reproductive rights groups.
Not only has Paretsky’s own work broken barriers, she has also helped open doors for other women. In 1986 she created Sisters in Crime, a worldwide organization to support women crime writers, which earned her Ms. Magazine’s 1987 Woman of the Year award. More accolades followed: the British Crime Writers awarded her the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement; Blacklist won the Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers for best novel of 2004, and she has received the honorary degreee of Doctor of Letters from several different universities. The actress Kathleen Turner played V.I. Warshawski in the movie of that name and Paretsky’s work is celebrated in Pamela Beere Briggs’s documentary, Women of Mystery. Today Sara Paretsky’s books are published in 30 countries.
She detailed her journey from Kansas farm-girl to New York Times bestseller in her 2007 memoir, Writing in an Age of Silence, which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. In addition, Paretsky has written two highly-acclaimed stand-alone novels, Ghost Country, used in many seminary classrooms, and Bleeding Kansas, set in the part of rural Kansas where Paretsky grew up. She has published a collection of her own short stories, and edited four other anthologies, including, most recently, Sisters on the Case.
Like her fictional detective, Paretsky lives and dies with the Cubs, runs Chicago’s lakefront with her golden retriever, and loves to sing, taking part in community musicals. Paretsky lives on Chicago’s south side with her husband, a member of the University of Chicago’s Fermi Institute.