For my bi-weekly post at SleuthSayers, I reflect on the final texts and discussions from my “Women of Mystery” course at George Mason University, which had its final classes this week (with essays and grading and exams and more grading still ahead). We finished our classwork looking at Sue Grafton’s A Is For Alibi and Sisters in Crime’s recent Report for Change, focused on questions of diversity, equity and inclusion in the genre. Surprisingly even to me (who put the syllabus together), there was a direct transition from Grafton’s book to the SinC report—as my students helped me to see. (I learn as much as they do from these classes sometimes.)
Here’s a key excerpt from my post:
This semester marks the first time I’ve taught a course in “Women of Mystery” and the last couple of classes brought some interesting discussions and left me with plenty to think about myself. The final book we studied was Sue Grafton’s A Is For Alibi, a novel I’ve taught before in the context of hard-boiled detective fiction—how this novel builds out of that tradition and shifts its focus. This time, obviously, we were looking at the history of women crime writers and female detectives, which offered a different context. In one class discussion, for example, we charted the great diversity of female characters represented in the book: from young to old, from working class to upper class, from single women to married women to divorced women and with a mix of mistresses in between, and from the domestically minded to the fiercely independent; as students pointed out, while Kinsey Milhone is always jogging and keeping an eye on her health, we also have a character saying that “Fat is beautiful” and arguing for special rights for the “grossly overweight.”
But amidst all the diversity of women’s experiences catalogued in the book, there was a key bit of diversity missing: As my students pointed out, nearly all the characters here are white.