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A History of Sisters in Crime 

   

This history of Sisters in Crime is excerpted from the 2017 Publishing Summit Report, “Raising Women’s Voices for Thirty Years.” You can find the entire report here.


“Have fun. Be brave. Love your sisters. Don’t do too much. Don’t do too little. Don’t forget to laugh.”
 Nancy Pickard, author and second president of Sisters in Crime


In 1986, twenty-six women crime writers, frustrated with the obstacles they faced in publishing, met at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Baltimore to plot a path toward being treated as the equals of male writers. They gathered again in May 1987 during the Edgar Awards Week in New York to formally establish the organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC). The group formed a steering committee and held the first membership meeting at Bouchercon in 1987, establishing a tradition that continues. 

There have been three distinct phases in SinC’s growth over the years:

  • A Sisterhood is Born: formation and organization (1986-1993)
  • The Growth Phase: Maintaining the vision and staying on target (1990s and early 2000s)
  • A New Vision of Inclusion (2009 to the present)
 
 

 

Part 1. The Sisterhood is Born—The Early Years

 

Sisters in Crime emerged in the mid-1980s, with its primary goals to establish camaraderie and support and address imbalances in reviews while getting the organization going. At the 1987 Bouchercon in Minneapolis, a steering committee was established, with Sara Paretsky serving as the first president. When the first elections were held in 1988, Nancy Pickard became the first elected president. One of the crucial early outcomes was the Review Monitoring project, which documented the imbalance in reviews.

From the beginning, membership was not restricted to published writers; the unpublished were welcome. Readers, librarians, booksellers, and women in publishing all took an active role in building the organization. 

Inevitably, the founding members and early presidents faced backlash. Some men—and it must be said, some women—did not see the need for an organization focused on expanding opportunities for women. Words like “censorship” and “anti-men” were used. As Pickard recalls, the climate for women crime fiction writers “mixed great enthusiasm, hope, and support with harsh, sexist criticism and contempt.” 
   

Part 2. The Growth Phase: Maintaining the Vision and Staying on Target


Over the years, the organization evolved as more women began writing and getting published across the crime fiction spectrum. Several key components of this phase include:

  • The emergence and development of chapters: Chapters began to spring up—the first chapter was formed in Los Angeles in 1988, with Phyllis Zembler Miller as the first president. By 1992, SinC had fifteen chapters, and in the fall of 2017, fifty-two chapters.
  • The creation of “Support and Information Groups” (SIGs): These SIGs were designed to serve members who shared a common interest but not geography.
  • SinC joins the Authors’ Coalition of America (AC) in 1997: The AC manages distributions of funds paid, largely in Europe, for international copyright distributions of members’ work. Membership in AC required a change in bylaws and mission to focus on authors, in keeping with AC rules, but by that time, a large percentage of SinC’s members were writers. The initial payment was far more than expected, and allowed SinC to expand programming aimed at writers.
  • The creation of “We Love Libraries!” Program: In 2010, SinC’s library outreach expanded with a monthly draw granting a library $1,000. By the end of 2017, SinC had given American libraries nearly $100,000 to buy books.

Moreover, as self-publishing became a viable option, additional questions and structural issues arose, as well as some new divisions among members.

 

Part 3. A New Vision of Inclusion 

 


As publishing changes, the challenges both women writers and the organization face also change. Recent developments include:

  • Rewriting the tagline and mission statement in 2013 to articulate a vision that, for the first time, went beyond gender to do more to include authors of color.
  • Re-focusing the mission to emphasize education, creating an Education Committee, a Speakers’ Bureau, and an Education Liaison.
  • Creating a new campaign (“We Love Short Stories!”) of inSinC articles and discounted subscriptions aimed at promoting short story writing and reading.
   

The Past, the Present and the Future

 

With help from many quarters, within the membership and outside it, SinC’s founders created an organization that values the needs of all its members, whether they are readers or writers. An organization that fights for diversity, and isn’t afraid to look inward, find itself wanting, and model a path for change. An organization that supports and includes, that looks to expand shelf space—literally and figuratively; that encourages writers to get a seat at the table not by unseating someone else but by building a bigger table.

Learn More

This is not a complete history of Sisters in Crime. To read the full 2017 Publishing Summit Report, “Raising Women’s Voices for Thirty Years.” Click here.

Other historical perspectives include

  • “Sisters in Crime at the Quarter Century: Advocacy, Community, and Change,” a 2011 paper by Barbara Fister, a past SinC board member. Click here [PDF]
  • “A Brief History of Sisters in Crime” by Lora Roberts (2003).  Click here
  • SinC’s archives are located at the Douglass College, now part of the Special Collections and University Archives in the Alexander Library, at Rutgers University. The index and some materials are available on line. Click here
  • Watch video interviews with founding mother Sara Paretsky and Marcia Talley on our YouTube channel.
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