Paretsky, Sara

Paretsky, PhD
Year Inducted: 
Sara Paretsky
  • A Ms. Magazine 1987 Woman of the Year
  • Best-selling novelist of mysteries featuring Private Investigator V.I.Warshawski
  • Awarded the Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement by the British Crime Writers Association
  • Chaired first KU Commission on the Status of Women and helped produce a report on the career paths of KU graduates used by US Department of Labor in developing its affirmative action guidelines
  • Advocate for women with the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Chicago NARAL
  • Founding member of the professional organization Sisters in Crime
  • Established the Sara and Two C-Dogs Foundation to supports girls and women in the arts, letters, and sciences

Sara N. Paretsky, best-selling mystery writer, has been describe as an “unafraid, witty, bright, cultivated, and vocal Jayhawk.”  She has also been described as a forthright and unhesitating supporter of human rights from the time she was a child.  Even as a young student, she impressed her teachers by taking stands on a variety of issues.  At the University of Kansas, she was a leader in Sellards Scholarship Hall and was instrumental in changing the in loco parentis attitudes and philosophy of residence hall directives, enabling women students to have the same residence choices as male students.  This was one of Dr. Paretsky’s early significant steps in affording female students equal recognition with their male counterparts.  She also chaired the first Commission on the Status of Women at the University of Kansas and helped produce a report on the career paths of KU graduates.  This report was subsequently used by the United States Department of Labor in developing its affirmative action guidelines.  Dr. Paretsky also served as a student on the Senate of Associated Women Students and was voted Outstanding Woman of Sellards Hall.  She was a Watkins Scholar, member of Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History; she was third in her class.

With a Ford Foundation fellowship, Dr. Paretsky went on to attend the University of Chicago where she earned both the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in History and a Master of Business Administration.  During her tenure at the University of Chicago, she combined academic research with activities in the National Organization for Women, travelling around the country organizing seminars and workshops for NOW.  She continued these activities after completing her studies, and began lecturing as well.

Dr. Paretsky joined a Chicago insurance company as a Marketing Manager, a position she held for almost ten years.   During this time, she decided to act on a fantasy she had had for a long time.  In 1980, that fantasy was actualized with the completion of her first work, Indemnity Only, and the introduction of V.I. Warshawski, a female Chicago Private Investigator.  V.I. has continued to blaze a trail in such books as Deadlock, Killing Orders, Bitter Medicine, and  Blood Shot, and nine others, including Blacklist, which received the Gold Dagger for Best Novel.  Her latest, Bleeding Kansas, is set in the rural Kansas she grew up in, and Hardball is expected to be released in 2009.  These books have all received favorable reviews in The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Playboy, and many other notable publications.  The British Crime Writers Association awarded her the Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement in the genre.  The books have been translated into almost 30 foreign languages, winning Warshawski an international following.  A movie based on one of the books and named after the title character, starring Kathleen Turner, was released on the big screen in 1991.

Sara Paretsky was selected by Ms. Magazine as one of their Women of the Year for 1987.  In describing her,  Ms. Magazine stated she “is doing what Virginia Woolf thought was impossible: writing first-rate fiction with a political energy that buoys up her prose rather than bludgeoning it.”  Ms. Magazine also stated V.I. Warshawski is a “witty and outspoken feminist” and like Paretsky “is exceptionally smart and has a well-developed sense of suspicion toward the world of money.  If Paretsky wasn’t such a terrific writer, of course, none of V.I.’s sterling traits would matter.  But she is and they do.  For feminists and mystery fans, V.I. Warshawski is the best thing that’s happened to reading in years.”  The New York Times (August 15, 1985) stated Paretsky “has been successful in portraying a woman in a man’s world; and the emphasis is on ‘woman.’  V.I. Warshawski  is tough but never loses her femininity, and she is altogether a believable creation.”

Not only has Dr. Paretsky been busy writing, she has also been active in the Mystery Writers of America.  She helped organize Sisters in Crime, a woman’s caucus in the Association, which is working to dislodge the male bias in the mystery-writing profession.  She has also been active against the right-to-life movement.  She is on the board of the Chicago National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and does a great deal of speaking and writing for the organization.  She is vocal in her criticism of popular culture such as movies and music, which she identifies as increasingly have images of violence against women.  “In a perverse way, as women have become stronger in many areas over the past decades, the images of degradation against woman have also become stronger,” she stated in a lecture at the University in 2001. As her site bio also explains about her role in the community, “Paretsky established the Sara and Two C-Dogs Foundation, which primarily supports girls and women in the arts, letters, and sciences. She has endowed several scholarships at the University of Kansas, and has mentored students in Chicago’s inner city schools. She serves on the advisory boards of Literature for All of Us, a literacy group for teen moms, and Thresholds, which serves Chicago’s mentally-ill homeless.”  Paretsky is just as active as her iconic character, V.I. Warshawski, in creating change.

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