Every week, the two female hosts of the podcast “My Favorite Murder” recount stories of murders both famous and obscure to each other, and conclude with the directive and plea: “stay sexy . . . and don’t get murdered.” The popularity of “My Favorite Murder,” along with the phenomenal juggernaut of the podcast Serial, is representative of an emerging, and feminist, trend in the pop culture mainstay of true crime.
Since Truman Capote established the mainstreaming of the genre with In Cold Blood, true crime texts have proliferated throughout the American entertainment landscape. In the twenty-first century, some female creators began to challenge the tropes of the genre. Rather than taking a prosecutorial or detached tone, these women explore their emotional enmeshment in the story. Books like The Red Parts (Maggie Nelson) and Men We Reaped (Jesmyn Ward) are told achronologically, disturbing established timelines to foreground how trauma reverberates in the families and communities of victims. Similarly, podcasts resurrect and refashion an older medium—radio shows—to experiment with storytelling that dismantles the conceit that true crime stories can be contained within tidy, journalistic narratives.
In this Olio, we will read and listen to examples where women have narratively and formally decentered the “truth,” foregrounded the creative process, and created a space for empathy and community in a way that could be called feminist.