April 18, 2017 – Lillian’s Interviews Sara Paretsky 12:20 to 12:30, “FallOut”
About V.I. Warshawski
- I. Warshawski was born on July 27th, with the sun in Leo and Gemini rising. Her chart reads: “Extremely active by nature, you like to get around and meet people. Very restless, you can’t seem to stay put. Because of the high nervous tension you always have, athletic activity would be a good way for you to burn off energy.”
Private detective is a perfect occupation for a woman with that kind of personality. These days, V. I. often complains in the books about how the Internet has changed detective work. She used to be out and about, going through public records or tailing people to get information that now is best found on line, and for someone with her active nature, sitting in front of a computer is a kind of torment.
- I. grew up under the shadow of the old steel mills on Chicago’s South Side. Her father was a cop; her mother a refugee from Mussolini’s Italy. Her mother had aspired to an operatic career but ended up giving music lessons to neighbors’ children. She died when V. I. was in her teens, a loss that still haunts the detective. The eight red Venetian wine glasses that her mother brought with her from her home town near Orvieto are V. I.’s most prized possession. V. I. keeps cracking or breaking them, which terrifies me as much as it does the fictional character.
- I., as her horoscope says, is impatient and restless; she doesn’t stay home long enough to keep house. Although she likes good food, she often eats on the run, spilling chili down her favorite silk blouses because she’s eating while driving. She drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky and loves red wine, especially from Torgiano, the hill country where her mother grew up.
- I. Warshawski attended the University of Chicago on an athletic scholarship, and went to law school there as well. She worked for several years in the Cook County Public Defender’s office before becoming a private investigator in 1982.
- I. was married once as a young woman. The marriage lasted about eighteen months, when she found her husband only admired independent women from a distance. These days, she’s a serial monagamist. She lives alone, but shares two dogs with her neighbor, Mr. Contreras, a retired machinist whose main hobby is V. I. herself.
- I.’s chart adds that she is “stubborn about her right to live her life according to her own principles. She appreciates truth and honesty; she practices it herself and expects it of others.” I couldn’t have put it better.
About Sara Paretsky
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 believable investigator with the grit and the smarts to tackle problems on the mean streets, Paretsky challenged a genre in which women typically were either vamps or victims. Hailed by critics and readers, Indemnity Only was followed by fifteen 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 such venues as 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.
Sara Paretsky, history of activism
- 1964-65: Chaired U of Kansas first commission on Women. Our published study on post-collegiate careers for women was used by the US Department of Labor as they established Title VII guidelines
- 1966: Working with kids age 7 – 11 on Chicago’s South Side, as part of the Civil Rights movement. We were using education and city outings with white kids to try to expand their sense of the value of living in a city of multiple races/ethnicities.
- 1970 – present: Working to secure women’s access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception, as a lobbyist, a member of the board of the National Abortion Rights Action League (Illinois) and a member of Planned Parenthood’s National Board of Advocates
- 1986: Founded Sisters in Crime, an Advocacy group for women in the mystery writing field
- 1996 – 2000: Mentored teens in one of Chicago’s most economically challaenged high schools. Helped shepherd two girls through graduation from school
- 2012 – 2015: Served on the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, an organization devoted to monitoring issues around nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and climate change.
- 2000 – Present: Through the Sara & Two C-Dogs Foundation (my private foundation) I support a variety of programs for women and children in the arts, sciences, reproductive health care, literacy, and athletics. Two programs I especially cherish are Girls in the Game, where I frequently do workshops on writing, and Sisters4Science