Sarah Vowell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sarah Vowell
Vowell standing onstage in front of a microphone holding papers
Vowell in August 2007
Sarah Jane Vowell

(1969-12-27) December 27, 1969 (age 54)
  • Author
  • journalist
  • essayist
  • social commentator
  • actress

Sarah Jane Vowell (born December 27, 1969)[2] is an American historian,[3] author, journalist, essayist, social commentator and actress. She has written seven nonfiction books on American history and culture. Vowell was a contributing editor for the radio program This American Life on Public Radio International from 1996 to 2008, where she produced numerous commentaries and documentaries. She was also the voice of Violet Parr in the 2004 animated film The Incredibles and its 2018 sequel.

Early life and education[edit]

Sarah Vowell was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on December 27, 1969. Her family moved to Bozeman, Montana when she was eleven.[4] She has a fraternal twin sister, Amy. Vowell graduated from Bozeman High School.[5] She earned a B.A. from Montana State University in 1993 in Modern Languages and Literature,[6] and an M.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999.[7]



Vowell's articles have been published in The Village Voice, Esquire, Spin Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and SF Weekly.[8][9][10][11][12][13] She has been a regular contributor to the online magazine,[14] and was one of the original contributors to McSweeney's, participating in many of the quarterly's readings and shows.

Vowell's first book, Radio On: A Listener's Diary (1997), which featured her year-long diary of listening to the radio in 1995, caught the attention of This American Life host Ira Glass, and it led to Vowell becoming a frequent contributor to the show.[citation needed] Thereafter, segments on the show became the subjects for many of her subsequent published essays.[citation needed] Vowell's first essay collection was Take the Cannoli (2000), which was followed by The Partly Cloudy Patriot (2002).

In 2005, Vowell served as a guest columnist for The New York Times during several weeks in July, briefly filling in for Maureen Dowd.[15] Vowell also served as a guest columnist in February 2006.[16] Her book Assassination Vacation (2005) describes a road trip to tourist sites devoted to the murders of presidents Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield and William McKinley.[17] Vowell's book, The Wordy Shipmates (2008), analyzes the settlement of the New England Puritans in America and their contributions to American history.[18] Also in 2008, Vowell's essay about Montana appeared in the book State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America.

Vowell wrote Unfamiliar Fishes (2011), which discusses the Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the Newlands Resolution.[19][20] In April 2011, the book became a New York Times Bestseller.[21] In her Los Angeles Times review, Susan Salter Reynolds wrote that Vowell's "cleverness is gorgeously American: She collects facts and stores them like a nervous chipmunk, digesting them only for the sake of argument."[19] Allegra Goodman, writing in The Washington Post, describes the work as "a big gulp of a book, printed as an extended essay... Lacking section or chapter breaks, Vowell's quirky history lurches from one anecdote to the next. These are often entertaining, but in the aggregate they begin to sound the same..."[20] Goodman also wrote that "Vowell tells a good tale" with "shrewd observations", but that she found that "the narrative wears thin where casual turns cute and cute threatens to turn glib."[20]

Her most recent book is Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015), an account of the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat who became George Washington's trusted officer and friend, and afterward an American celebrity.[22][23] In a review for The New York Times, Charles P. Pierce wrote, "Vowell wanders through the history of the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath, using Lafayette's involvement in the war as a map, and bringing us all along in her perambulations… and doing it with a wink."[22] NPR reviewer Colin Dwyer wrote, "It's awfully refreshing to see Vowell bring our founders down from their lofty pedestals. In her telling, they're just men again, not the gods we've long since made of them."[23]

Public appearances and lectures[edit]

Vowell signing books after a lecture at Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, 2010

Vowell has appeared on television shows such as Nightline, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,[24] The Colbert Report, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Show with David Letterman, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.[25][better source needed]

In April 2006, Vowell served as the keynote speaker at the 27th Annual Kentucky Women Writers Conference.[26] In August and September 2006, she toured the United States as part of the Revenge of the Book Eaters national tour, which benefited the children's literacy centers 826NYC, 826CHI, 826 Valencia, 826LA, 826 Michigan, and 826 Seattle.[citation needed]

Vowell also provided commentary in Robert Wuhl’s 2005 Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl HBO specials.[27]

Voice and acting work[edit]

Vowell provided the voice of Violet Parr, a shy teenager, in the 2004 Pixar animated film The Incredibles, and returned to her role for the film's sequel, Incredibles 2, in 2018.[28][29] Vowell also voiced the character in various related video games, and for Disney on Ice presentations in the years following the film's release.[30][31] Director Brad Bird heard Vowell on This American Life,[32] "Guns", in which she and her father fire a homemade cannon and determined Vowell’s voice fit the character.[33] Pixar made a test animation for Violet using audio from that sequence, which was included on the DVD of The Incredibles.[34] Vowell also wrote and was featured in a documentary included on the same DVD, entitled "Vowellett—An Essay by Sarah Vowell", in which she reflects on the difference between being an author of history books on assassinated presidents and voicing the superhero Violet, and on what the role meant to her nephew.

Vowell was featured prominently in the 2002 documentary about the alternative rock band, They Might Be Giants, entitled Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, and she appeared with band members John Linnell and John Flansburgh in the DVD commentary for the movie.[35] She also provided commentary for the April 2006 episode, "Murder at the Fair: The Assassination of President McKinley," one of ten in the History Channel miniseries, 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America.[36]

In September 2006, Vowell appeared as a minor character in the ABC drama Six Degrees.[37] She appeared in an episode of HBO's Bored to Death, as an interviewer in a bar, and in 2010, appeared briefly in the film Please Give, as a shopper.[38][39] Vowell also appeared on The Daily Show as a Senior Historical Context Correspondent.[40]

Personal life[edit]

Vowell writes that she has a small amount of Cherokee ancestry (about 1/8 on her mother's side and 1/16 on her father's side). She is not a member of any tribe or nation. She retraced the path of the forced removal of the Cherokee from the southeastern United States to Oklahoma, known as the Trail of Tears, with her twin sister Amy. In 1998, This American Life chronicled her story, devoting the entire hour to her work.[41] Vowell spent many vacations with her sister and nephew visiting historical sites. As a child she attended church three times a week and seldom travelled.

She has described herself as a “culturally Christian atheist”.[42]

Vowell is on the advisory board of 826NYC, a nonprofit tutoring and writing center for students aged 6–18 in Brooklyn.[43]

Selected published works[edit]

  • 1997—Radio On: A Listener's Diary, ISBN 0-312-18301-1.
  • 2000—Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World, ISBN 0-7432-0540-5.
  • 2002—The Partly Cloudy Patriot, ISBN 0-7432-4380-3.
  • 2005—Assassination Vacation, ISBN 0-7432-6003-1.
  • 2008—The Wordy Shipmates, ISBN 1-59448-999-8.
  • 2011—Unfamiliar Fishes, ISBN 1-59448-787-1.
  • 2015—Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, ISBN 1-59463-174-3.



Year Title Role Notes
1987 End of the Line Diner Waitress Uncredited
1999 Man in the Sand Herself Documentary
2002 Gigantic Herself
2004 The Incredibles Violet Parr Voice
2010 Please Give Shopper
2011 Hit So Hard Herself Documentary
2013 A.C.O.D. Lorraine
2018 Incredibles 2 Violet Parr Voice


Year Title Role Notes
2006–2007 Six Degrees Edie 2 episodes
2006 The Colbert Report Herself 1 episode
2009 Bored to Death Journalist
2010 Lafayette: The Lost Hero Herself Documentary
2011 Jimmy Kimmel Live! Special guest
2011, 2013, 2015 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
2011 Last Call with Carson Daly
The Tavis Smiley Show
2015 Conan
2016 Well Read V
2018 The Who Was? Show Episode: “George Washington & Marco Polo”

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2004 The Incredibles Violet Parr
2004 The Incredibles: When Danger Calls
2012 Kinect Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure
2013 Disney Infinity Credited as Sara Vowell
2014 Disney Infinity 2.0
2015 Disney Infinity 3.0
2018 Lego The Incredibles

Short film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2005 Vowellet – An Essay by Sarah Vowell Herself, writer, archive footage Included as a bonus feature to The Incredibles on home media; details Vowell's voice work during the film while also writing Assassination Vacation and how her This American Life writing/narration earned her the role of Violet.

Theme parks[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2018 Incredicoaster Violet Parr Voice


  1. ^ "Sarah Vowell Visits SAIC as Distinguished Alumni Lecturer" (Press release). Chicago: School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Vowell, Sarah (April 3, 2001). Take the Cannoli. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0743205405.
  5. ^ "Vowell's constant".
  6. ^ Schmidt, Carol (April 30, 2010). "Vowell's constant". Montana State University. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  7. ^ "Sarah Vowell Visits SAIC as Distinguished Alumni Lecturer". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  8. ^ "Sarah Vowell | Authors | The Village Voice". Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  9. ^ VOWELL, SARAH. "How to Get Ketchup Out of a Bottle | Esquire | NOVEMBER 2000". Esquire | The Complete Archive. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  10. ^ "Wilco, Summerteeth (Reprise) SPIN". Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  11. ^ Vowell, Sarah (May 17, 2020). "Opinion | How Democrats Win in My Red State (and They Do Win)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  12. ^ Vowell, Sarah (January 10, 1999). "The Incredible Vanishing Act of an American Icon". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  13. ^ Vowell, Sarah (August 28, 1996). "Suspicious Minds". SF Weekly. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  14. ^ "Sarah Vowell". Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  15. ^ Vowell, Sarah (July 23, 2005). "Lock and Load". The New York Times. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  16. ^ "Sarah Vowell, Guest Columnist". The New York Times. February 3, 2006. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  17. ^ Woodward, Richard B. (May 15, 2005). "'Assassination Vacation' by Sarah Vowell". The New York Times. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  18. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (November 28, 2008). "Mayflower Power". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  19. ^ a b Salter Reynolds, Susan (March 26, 2011). "Book review: 'Unfamiliar Fishes' by Sarah Vowell: The 'Partly Cloudy Patriot' author takes on American imperialism and exceptionalism". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 21, 2011.
  20. ^ a b c Goodman, Allegra (April 1, 2011). "Sarah Vowell's 'Unfamiliar Fishes,' a quirky history of Hawaii". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  21. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. April 10, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  22. ^ a b Pierce, Charles P. (November 17, 2015). "Sarah Vowell's 'Lafayette in the Somewhat United States'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  23. ^ a b Dwyer, Colin (October 21, 2015). "'Somewhat United' Brings Lafayette Down From His Pedestal". Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  24. ^ North, Anna (October 6, 2009). "Sarah Vowell, Jon Stewart, And The Freedom of the Bowl Haircut". Jezebel. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  25. ^ "Barnes & Noble Biography: Meet the writers - Sarah Vowell". Steven Barclay Agency. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012.
  26. ^ "Women Writers Conference Announces Creative Nonfiction Contest". University of Kentucky. October 11, 2005. Archived from the original on February 20, 2012.
  27. ^ Sandomir, Richard (April 1, 2006). "Robert Wuhl Is a Teacher on HBO's 'Assume the Position With Mr. Wuhl'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  28. ^ Celestino, Mike (June 11, 2018). "INTERVIEW: Acclaimed author and "Incredibles 2" star Sarah Vowell on superheroes, Disney, and America". Inside The Magic. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  29. ^ Ching, Albert (July 14, 2017). "D23 Expo: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios—The Upcoming Films". Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  30. ^ 219.852.4329, MOLLY WOULFE (January 24, 2006). "Disney on Ice unmasks 'Incredibles' ice show". Retrieved July 29, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ "Sarah Vowell". IMDb. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  32. ^ Litman, Juliet (June 14, 2018). "The Making of Violet Parr in 'The Incredibles'". The Ringer. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  33. ^ Glass, Ira (host, exec. prod.), Vowell, Sarah (guest writer/presenter) et al. (October 24, 1997). This American Life ["Guns" (episode 81)] (archived audio). Chicago, IL: Chicago Public Media. Event occurs at unknown time. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  34. ^ "The Incredibles DVD Review". Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  35. ^ "Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)". DVD Talk. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  36. ^ "Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America" Murder at the Fair: The Assassination of President McKinley (TV Episode 2006) - IMDb, retrieved July 29, 2020
  37. ^ Six Degrees (TV Series 2006–2008) - IMDb, retrieved July 29, 2020
  38. ^ Bored to Death (TV Series 2009–2011) - IMDb, retrieved July 29, 2020
  39. ^ Please Give (2010) - IMDb, retrieved July 29, 2020
  40. ^ "Sarah Vowell comes back to WBEZ". WBEZ Chicago. March 9, 2012. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  41. ^ "107: Trail of Tears". This American Life. July 3, 1998. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  42. ^ "Sarah Vowell - Freedom from Religion Foundation".
  43. ^ "826NYC About". Retrieved July 29, 2020.

External links[edit]

External audio
audio icon Consonant Vowells: Sarah Vowell on This American Life and Hearing Voices
audio icon How A French Teenager Helped Save Us From 'The Fatal Tendency Of Disunion', John O'Brien, KUOW, November 12, 2015