Women and Adversity: Sue Grafton
Novelist, Kinsey Millhone Alphabet series
I’ve updated this blog, which I posted in April 2018, because it’s the first anniversary of Sue Taylor Grafton’s death. A year ago on December 28 the novelist passed away in Santa Barbara, CA. Her website states she is published in 28 countries and in 26 languages. She had announced the last book in her Alphabet series would be Z is for Zero, but since she never plotted her books ahead of time, she didn’t know what path the book would take and didn’t want anyone else to write it for her. She also didn’t want her books made into films or television shows. Thus the alphabet ended at Y for private investigator Kinsey Millhone, much to the grief of all Sue Grafton’s fans.
Sue was born in Louisville, KY and would have celebrated her 78th birthday April 24, 2018. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1961 from University of Louisville with a major in English literature. She moved to California and held several jobs including hospital admissions clerk and medical secretary. She had married twice and had three children before she married Steve Humphrey in 1978.
Sue began writing when she was a teen and in 1967 her first novel, Keziah Dane, was published. She followed that one with The Lolly-Madonna War in 1969. She helped write the screenplay for it when it was made into a movie in 1973. She stayed in Hollywood and wrote for several television productions including Rhoda, Nurse and the movie Sex and the Single Parent. She and Humphrey as a team adapted some Agatha Christie novels for television.
Her father, C.W. Grafton, was an attorney and had written several mystery novels. Her mother, Vivian, was a chemistry teacher, but both parents were alcoholics. She got her idea for mysteries in answer to a bitter divorce when she would “think of ways to kill the man.” Instead of acting on her yearnings, she put those feelings into her books. Edward Gore’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet book inspired her to write her mysteries in alphabet form.
Sue and her private detective Kinsey Millhone found their way into fans hearts in 1982 with the publication of A is for Alibi, then B is for Burglar and up the alphabet until Y is for Yesterday. She had announced that Z is for Zero would be the last book.
She wrote Kinsey Millhone as a woman who shattered the image of a man being the protagonist as private detective in mystery novels. Kinsey was the independent woman who could solve crimes as well or better than men could. Sue admits Kinsey was her alter ego but said Kinsey’s cursing, eating fast food and being uninterested in nature surrounding her is not the real Sue Grafton.
Sue is survived by Humphrey and her children, Leslie, Jamie and Jay.
Next blog post: January 10, 2019