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Academic Research Grants 2017: Funded Research Report
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Sisters in Crime will award academic research grants in 2018.  Requirements and application information will be available at the main Academic Research Grant page.

Below are our 2017 reports from researchers who were previously funded through this program. You can see past year's reports by using the related pages drop down menu at the top left of this page.

 

Claire Meldrum at Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario

Biography of Anna Katharine Green

I am very grateful to Sisters in Crime for awarding me an Academic Research grant. As a result of their generosity, I have been able to purchase more than two dozen books that I am using to write a new book-length biography about American detective fiction author, Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935). A seminal figure in American crime fiction, whose books helped give shape to the genre during its formative decades, I hope that this new biographical project will help situate Green in the context of the American experience in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and to illuminate the personal interactions and events that occurred over the course of her nine decade life.

This book will cover her family history and her relationship with them; her father’s legal experiences and political efforts; her Presbyterian faith and the family’s relationship to celebrated preacher Henry Ward Beecher; her childhood in Brooklyn and Buffalo, NY; her experience at Ripley Female College during the American Civil War; her efforts at publication throughout the 1870s, which finally culminated in The Leavenworth Case in 1878; the business of writing and her relationship with publishers like George H. Putnam, S. S. McClure and Mrs. Frank Leslie; her courtship and marriage to Charles Rohlfs; the family’s life in Buffalo, NY; her relationship with other popular writers, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Besant and Carolyn Wells; Rohlfs’ connections to the Republican party and their support for William McKinley; the Pan-American Exposition, both as organizers and as witnesses to a presidential assassination; motherhood and her relationship to her three children; the couple’s lifelong commitment to civic involvement; her life after retirement, including the death of two of her adult children; and her posthumous legacy.

The Sisters in Crime Academic Research Grant has allowed me to purchase a wealth of books about many of the important figures and events who appeared in Green’s life, including biographies of Henry Ward Beecher, George Haven Putnam, Justice Charles Daly, Millard Fillmore and William McKinley and a range of histories addressing the experiences and events that took place in Brooklyn, New York City and Buffalo, among others, during the nineteenth and twentieth century.

In fact, my only regret is that Sisters in Crime doesn’t offer a New Bookshelf Award alongside their Research Award. If they do, I’ll be first in line to apply!

 

 

Dr Rebecca Mills at Bournemouth University, UK

Spatiality and Transgression in the Work of Dorothy B. Hughes

I was awarded a Sisters in Crime research grant to purchase books related to a project on spaces and transgression in the fiction of American noir crime and thriller writer Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-1993). She is best known for her novels In a Lonely Place (1947) and Ride the Pink Horse (1946), but her other novels are largely unknown, and generally overlooked by literary and academic critics and overshadowed by her near-contemporary Patricia Highsmith. Three of Hughes’s books are in print with major publishers: In a Lonely Place (1947; Penguin), The Blackbirder (1943; Vintage), and The Expendable Man (1963; Persephone), and the rest are available only as e-books via The Murder Room. This grant, then, has enabled me to begin to fill this gap—Hughes’s work is vivid, startling, and sophisticated, lending itself to study of gender, transgression, and power in the 1940s and 1950s, and how these relate to crime. These elements are all reflected, I argue, in Hughes’s sense of place, and the way environments shape psychology as well as social tensions. 

This project was designed to produce two articles, but having read more of Hughes’s work, I am beginning to consider a third. My original focus was Hughes’s navigation of gender, performed identity, and transgression, within her urban and cross-country geographies. One article—I’m close to finishing a draft—is based on a conference paper I gave on In a Lonely Place. Based on the reading enabled by the grant, I’m expanding this article to include analysis of Hughes’s first novel, The So Blue Marble (1940), set in New York. Hughes’s novels map their cities very precisely—actual street names, shops, train stations and nightclubs are carefully placed. In contrast to this defined cartography, the crimes of the novels happen in anonymous ‘lonely places’: Los Angeles canyons and deserted beaches, New York side alleys and borrowed apartments. As Henrik Gustafsson has discussed, these places are typical of film noir—the deserted side street and railway tracks in the film Double Indemnity (1944) are lonely places within the modern city; one of my interests is how Hughes maps the spaces and conventions of film noir into literary form. In The So Blue Marble, a rather fantastic crime narrative with thriller and Gothic elements, New York is riddled with dark spaces behind the glamorous facades of commerce and civilisation: ‘Forty-second and Madison was lighted; buses were passing and cars and there were always people. Yet no one had noticed them turn. It was as if they were invisible standing there.’

The second article will examine mobility, modernity, and the dynamics of cross-country pursuits and escapes in Hughes’s work, with reference to frontier and western myths of America and scholarship on regional American crime fiction, which this grant has enabled me to purchase. Hughes was born in Kansas and set some of her work, such as the thrillers The Blackbirder (1943) and The Expendable Man (1963) in New Mexico. I want to investigate these novels, and Dread Journey (1945), as a context for Hughes’s subversive narratives.

A third element of Hughes’s work that I have become interested in is her depiction of Hollywood, and its cultures of exploitation and commodified glamour. In The Bamboo Blonde (1941) and Dread Journey, Hollywood is a site of decadence and organized crime and the exploitation of women, particularly blondes—this is linked to Hughes’s negotiation of the femme fatale. Hughes’s position as a woman on the periphery of this system, examining these systems would, I think, be valuable, and have particular relevance today.

The more I read Hughes’s work, the more intrigued I become—the systems of insider/outsider that we’re used to in crime fiction are destabilized in her work. She creates transactional—and often murderous—relationships between men and women, and her language is evocative and suspenseful. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to explore her work further, and to broaden my understanding of women’s American crime writing.

 

Erin A. Smith of University of Texas at Dallas

Feminine Noir?: American Women’s Cold-War Crime Fiction

I was awarded an Academic Research Grant for work on a scholarly monograph about American women writers of thrillers and crime fiction during the early Cold War (1940s-1960s). These authors include Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1889-1955), Vera Caspary (1904-1987), Dorothy B. Hughes (1904-1993), Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969), Dolores Hitchens (1907-1973), Evelyn Piper (Merriam Modell; 1908-1994), Leigh Brackett (1915-1978), Margaret Millar (1915-1994), Helen Eustis (1916-2015), and Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995). Since the 2000s, several feminist recovery projects have focused on bringing the work of women crime writers from the 1940s and 1950s back into print, although gender was largely absent from their Cold-War packaging. As a scholar of book history, I am interested in how meaning arises from the triangular interaction between texts (words on the page), books (material objects with particular covers, blurbs, etc.), and socially situated readers. My goal is to reconstruct what it meant to read these books during the Cold War and what it means to read them today. Although the texts themselves are unchanged, the books they come packaged in and the readers who encounter them are quite different.

I am primarily interested in three ideas: (1) how these authors navigated the gendered literary marketplace (i.e. their relationship to noir); (2) representations of reading, writing, and authorship (including crime fiction authorship) in the texts themselves; and (3) representations of gendered violence in the texts.

I used my grant to buy largely out-of-print used copies of women’s paperback crime novels from the 1940s – 1960s and to buy recent monographs on gender, race, nation, empire, and crime fiction to inform my primary research. During the period of the grant, I presented a paper on the reception of Evelyn Piper’s work for the Reception Studies Association conference and a paper on how gender has shaped the career of Leigh Brackett for the American Studies Association annual meeting. I have submitted an abstract for the Society for Novel Studies conference on Dorothy Hughes’ crime fiction, gender, and the state. I am also preparing an article on Vera Caspary’s Stranger than Truth.

I am grateful to Sisters in Crime for the funding that allowed me to do this research and for the boost of confidence it gave me that the project is worth doing.

 

Mary Stocklein of University of Arizona, Tucson AZ

The Native American Sleuth by Native American Women Authors

Through the generous support of the Sisters in Crime Academic Research Grant, I have been able to continue my research on Native American mystery writing. While the history of the literary Native American sleuth has been chronicled in detail in recent years, the majority of the current scholarship only considers Native American detectives portrayed by non-Native writers. My dissertation, Native American Mystery, Crime, and Detective Fiction, remedies this gap by surveying a range of Native-authored mystery novels. My research specifically considers the ways in which Native writers utilize or reject typical mystery genre conventions, and subsequently how Native writers entwine tribally-specific elements with mystery genre features.

Because of the grant, I have been able to elaborate on my existing chapter that considers depictions of violence against Native American women. The chapter originally analyzed Elsie’s Business by Frances Washburn (Lakota) and The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Anishinaabe). Now the chapter also includes contextual support from Sarah Deer’s book The Beginning and End of Rape as well as perspectives from the edited collection entitled Violence Against Indigenous Women. In addition, the chapter also contains an analysis of Taylor Sheridan’s recent film Wind River. I will be presenting a conference-length version of this chapter at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conference in February 2018.

I have also been able to begin a chapter completely devoted to the work of specific Native American women writers. Because of the grant I was able to purchase many Native-authored mystery novels, many by women, and I discovered that unlike the texts analyzed in my dissertation, the sleuths depicted by many Native women writers are Native women too. Sara Sue Hoklotubbe (Cherokee) is the author of the Sadie Walela Mystery Series, which currently consists of Deception On All Accounts (2003), The American Café (2011), Sinking Suspicions (2014), and the upcoming Betrayal at the Buffalo Ranch (2018). The series follows Sadie Walela, who is Cherokee, as she investigates murders that take place in Cherokee Country. In The Red Bird All-Indian Travelling Band (2014), set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the late 1960s, Frances Washburn (Lakota) casts Sissy Roberts who is Lakota as an amateur and somewhat apathetic sleuth. In Monkey Beach (2000), Eden Robinson (Haisla/Heiltsuk) depicts Lisamarie, a young Native woman with supernatural abilities, as she unravels what happened to her missing brother. In Along the Journey River (1996) by Carole LaFavor (Ojibwa), the main sleuth Renee LaRoche, who is Ojibwa and a lesbian, begins investigating when artifacts are stolen from her classroom; in Evil Dead Center (1997), LaRoche returns, this time to solve the murder of an Ojibwa woman whom authorities claim committed suicide. While these texts span time periods, geographical regions, and tribal affiliations, consistent themes regarding place, culture, and kinship emerge; Hoklotubbe, Washburn, Robinson, and LaFavor all integrate these strands as motivations for their particular female Native detectives.

While the Sisters in Crime Academic Research Grant has already aided in revising one of my existing chapters and in creating a new chapter focused on Native women writers, the other additional sources that I have been able to acquire will be integral to general revisions of my dissertation as a whole. I am deeply grateful for the grant as I am on track to finish my book manuscript by the end of the Spring 2018 semester, at which time I aim to submit a book proposal to academic presses.


 

 

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