Who Was Sue Grafton?
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1940, author Sue Grafton started writing as a teenager. She graduated from the University of Louisville in 1961. Six years later, Grafton published her first novel, Keziah Dane. Her next book, The Lolly-Madonna War (1969), was turned into a feature film. After working as a television writer for several years, Grafton debuted her first Kinsey Millhone novel, A Is for Alibi, in 1982. Going through nearly the entire alphabet, Grafton made it up to Y is for Yesterday, before her death from cancer on December 28, 2017.
Childhood and Education
Born on April 24, 1940, in Louisville, Kentucky, novelist Sue Grafton became one of the leading mystery writers of her time. Her father, a lawyer, had penned several mystery novels himself, while her mother was a teacher. However, both suffered from alcoholism, often leaving Grafton to fend for herself. "One of my theories is that no one with a happy childhood ever amounts to much in this world," Grafton told The New York Times.
In her late teens, Grafton discovered her passion for writing. "I started writing seriously when I was 18, wrote my first novel when I was 22, and I've never stopped writing since," she explained on her website. Grafton attended the University of Louisville for her first and last years of college, spending the time in between at Western Kentucky State Teachers College. After earning her bachelor's degree in English in 1961, she worked a number of jobs to support herself and her writing. In her personal life, Grafton married twice and had three children.
In 1967, Grafton published her first novel, Keziah Dane. She followed up this effort with 1969's The Lolly-Madonna War, which was made into a feature film in 1973. Grafton helped write the screenplay for the movie, which was called Lolly-Madonna XXX and starred Rod Steiger and Jeff Bridges.
After the film's release, Grafton found more work in Hollywood. She wrote for such shows as Rhoda, starring Valerie Harper, and Nurse, starring Michael Learned. Grafton also penned the script for multiple television movies, including Sex and the Single Parent (1979). With her third husband, Steve Humphrey, she also adapted some Agatha Christie novels for television around this time.
World Famous Mystery Novelist
In 1982, Grafton introduced readers to Kinsey Millhone, a hard-nosed private investigator, in A Is for Alibi. She told USA Today that Millhone was based, in part, on herself. "She is the person I might have been had I not married young and had children," the author explained. "She is my unlived life."
Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is often compared with Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, which debuted around the same time. Both writers helped popularize the tough female private eye character in mystery novels. After A Is for Alibi, Grafton continued having her investigator work her way through the alphabet with such titles as C Is for Corpse (1986), H Is for Homicide (1991) and P Is for Peril (2001), all the while plying her trade in the 1980s, a time when a private eye had to rely more on legwork than technology to close a case. Grafton's last entry in the series was 2017's Y is for Yesterday.
In 2013, Grafton offered up a collection of Kinsey Millhone short stories along with reflections on her own life in Kinsey and Me. Translated into 26 languages and sold in 28 countries, her books have become best-sellers around the world.
On December 29, 2017, Grafton's daughter Jamie Clark surfaced on her mother's Facebook page to announce that the beloved author had passed away the previous night following a two-year battle with cancer.
"Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name," posted Clark. "Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y."
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