Charlaine Harris is a prolific novelist, celebrated for her contributions to and expansion of the mystery genre. She is best known for her bestselling series following the title character of Sookie Stackhouse, whose adventures were adapted into the hit television show True Blood.
Before Dead until Dark, the first in the Southern Vampire Mysteries (or “Sookie Stackhouse Novels”), Harris made a name for herself in the traditional mystery market in the 1990s, first with several stand-alone texts, then the Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard (or “Shakespeare”) series, respectively. These series marked Harris’s initial explorations into metaliterary themes and rural southern settings, and established her penchant for compelling, critically thinking heroines.
However, through the eyes of her new heroine, Sookie, Harris made a stark detour from the traditional parameters of the mystery genre into world-building and high-stakes romance through fantasy. Harris’s first publishers predicted her melding of genres to be unpopular with her growing audience, but after several years and under the publication of Ace Books, Dead until Dark and the resulting series hurtled Harris to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. In it, sensitive subject matters (such as legal status, disability, addiction, and trauma) are handled with a balance of allegory, curiosity, and humor, as unpopular small-town waitress Sookie navigates a world in uproar over the recent “coming out” of the vampire community, to which her otherness as a telepath grants her relative access. As the series progresses, Sookie reckons with her own worldview upon encountering layer after layer of fantastic, underground communities with traditions, rituals, and laws of their own. When her friends and family are discovered to be part of these communities, and hidden truths about her own identity are revealed to her, Sookie develops in unexpected ways, but remains strong-willed, cunning, and surprisingly relatable.
Though Harris’s unique take on the paranormal sets the series apart, it is Sookie’s elicit and interracial romantic adventures—unheard of in traditional mystery—that have enticed readers in swarms, including noted screenwriter Alan Ball. Under Ball’s direction, Sookie was transmediated from print to screen as True Blood, first airing on HBO in 2008. True Blood not only expanded Harris’s audience, but kickstarted a national conversation stemming from the plot’s central themes: the politics and economics of race and sexuality. From its first moments, and pivotal “AIDS Burger” scene, True Blood set out as a brave representation of southernness that took up tropes only to break the rules, including making room for black queer characters to steal the spotlight. However, the show later broke from being a faithful representation of its textual inspiration, further exploring religious and public-health narratives, specifically their intersections with queer bodies. True Blood’s notoriously violent and sexualized seven seasons ended one year following the publication of the final Sookie Stackhouse novel, Harris’s Dead Ever After.
Following True Blood, the Hallmark television channel produced and aired a film series based on Harris’s Aurora Teagarden books, to which Harris returned with a ninth and tenth iteration after fifteen years. Simultaneous to the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Harris also penned the Harper Connelly series, and its graphic novel companions. She has since cowritten the Cemetery Girl series, and contributed to multiple fantasy anthologies. Her Midnight, Texas Trilogy, which pulled together several of her previous works’ characters under mysterious circumstances, was televised for one season on NBC.
For all of Harris’s popular success, she remains a limited figure in critical conversations. Her primary contribution to media studies, though indirect, was to pave the way for portraying more complex minority characters, if only through True Blood’s cultural moment. Harris has frequently commented on her natural bent towards blurring genre lines, based on her personal literary interests. An Easy Death, the first in Harris’s new Gunnie Rose series, is another entree into hybrid genres: a traditional-style alternate history with magical undercurrents, set in the gunslinging southwest.
Harris attributes her love of books to her childhood, having grown up “literally in the middle of a field” in rural Tunica, Mississippi, surrounded by a family of avid readers. She writes amidst a supportive family, including her husband and four children. She has most recently lived in southwest Arkansas and central Texas.
- Isabel Clúa Gínes, “Blood Ties: Interpretive Communities and Popular (Gendered) Genres,” Critical Studies 37 (2014)
- Sarah Holder, “Sookie’s Place(s): New Roadways into the South of the Southern Vampire Mysteries” (mater’s thesis, University of Mississippi, 2016)
- Maria Lindgren Leavenworth, “‘What Are You?’: Fear, Desire, and Disgust in the Southern Vampire Mysteries and True Blood,” Nordic Journal of English Studies 11:3 (2012)
- Deborah Mutch, “Coming out of the Coffin: The Vampire and Transnationalism in the Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse Series,” Critical Survey 23.2 (2011)