Stuart Melvin Kaminsky was born in Chicago in 1934 to Leo Kaminsky and Dorothy Kaminsky. His grandfathers were émigrés to the United States; one was originally from Lithuania and the other, from the Ukraine. The Lithuanian grandfather was a businessman who became a successful junk man in Chicago. One grandfather was an Orthodox Jew and the other, a communist.
After Kaminsky graduated from Marshall High School, his father opened a grocery store on the north side of Chicago, and the family moved to Albany Park. It was during his childhood that Kaminsky first became interested in writing when he read a children’s mystery series published by Whitman Publishers. The books featured movie stars who solved crimes as themselves. That series, very popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s, probably provided Kaminsky with the inspiration for his Toby Peters series. In the Peters books, Toby solves cases for studios and famous stars of the 1940’s. The Whitman books may also account for Kaminsky’s lifelong interest in American film.
Kaminsky held a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a master of arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a doctorate in speech from Northwestern University. He taught at Northwestern from 1973 until 1989, serving as both professor and chair of the film division. During that time, in addition to his own writing, he helped Sara Paretsky, then a student in one of his classes, become a professional writer. From his 1957 marriage to Merle Gordon, he was father to three children: Peter, Toby, and Lucy. Kaminsky and his second wife, Enid Perll, had a daughter, Natasha.
Kaminsky moved to Sarasota to accept a job as founding director of the Graduate Conservatory in Film and Television for Florida State University. When the conservatory left Sarasota and moved to Tallahassee in 1994, Kaminsky decided to retire from academia and devote his time to writing.
Kaminsky died in St. Louis, Missouri on October 9, 2009 at age 75.