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The Biographer's Craft 
An occasional newsletter for
writers & readers of biography
April 2007
Vol. 1, No. 2
Nasaw's Biography of Carnegie
Wins NYHS Book Prize

David Nasaw's Andrew Carnegie will be awarded the New-York Historical Society American Book Prize on April 27. In addition to the $50,000 prize award, Nasaw will also be named the society's American history laureate. Nasaw's previous biography was The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. He is currently at work on a new biography of Joseph P. Kennedy. Nigel Hamilton wrote a harsh (and, as it turned out, incorrect) column on Nasaw's plans in the Boston Globe last summer.

Memoir Takes Top Prize in British Biography Contest

A memoir by comedian Peter Kay took the Biography of the Year award at the Galaxy British Book Awards organized by the British Book Industry Awards on March 30. The Sounds of Laughter (Century) is a best-selling book in the UK with sales approaching one million copies. The award, nicknamed a Nibbie, was given to Kay during a gala-studded televised awards ceremony intended to do for books what the Oscars do for movies.
     The other titles that were short-listed for the award were Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man by Claire Tomalin (Viking), Marley and Me by John Grogran (Hodder & Stoughton), and Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay (HarperCollins).

UK's Biographers Club
Atkins While there are informal gatherings of biographers in many countries, biographers in the United Kingdom maintain an established club. Founded in 1997 by literary agent and biographer Andrew Lownie, the Biographers Club in London has about 150 member members.
    The club provides a forum for biographers and a setting for networking with other biographers as well as agents and publishers who also belong to the club.Its monthly programming offers interesting fare for biographers. On April 24, for instance, Sarah Helm will discuss the research for her biography A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE, published last August. Helm, has been a journalist for more than two decades, and was awarded the Laurence Stern Fellowship by the Washington Post among other honors.
    The club also administers an unusual prize intended to finance and encourage uncommissioned first-time writers. Established in 1999, the annual Biographers Club Prize is open to previously un-published or un-commissioned writers for a proposed biography. The prize sponsored by The Daily Mail is worth £2,000 and has usually led to a publishing deal.
     The judges for 2007 are Anne Sebba, author of numerous biographies including the forthcoming Jennie Churchill: Winston's American Mother;  Rachel Holmes, author of Dr. James Barry: Scanty Particulars and The Hottentot Venus, and Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, former publisher and author of Blood Royal and When in France.
    The winner will be announced at the prize-giving dinner on September 18. This year's speaker is Hermione Lee, whose biography of Edith Wharton is being published this month in the United States (See "Coming to Bookstores below.)
    For details on the competition, contact Anna Swan at anna@annaswan.co.uk .

Oxford DNB Offers Free On-Line Magazine
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has inaugurated a monthly compedium of biography and history drawn from the DNB.
To learn more, visit Oxford DNB

Sold to Publishers

The following are among the biographies sold to publishers in March as reported by Publishers Marketplace and other sources. 

  • Phillip Weinstein, Time Challenged: The Life and Art of William Faulkner, Oxford University Press.
  • Anna Beer, John Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot, Bloomsbury.
  • William H. Patterson. The Man who Learned Better (Robert A. Heinlein), Tor
  • Robert Greenfield, Ahmet Ertegun and the Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll, Simon & Schuster
  • David Cruise & Allison Griffith, Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Wild Horses, Scribner.
  • Chip Jacob, Wheeling the Deal: The Outrageous Legend of Gordon Zahler, Behler.


Coming to Bookstores

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster).

The Power and the Glory: The Inside Story of Pope John Paul II and the Failure of the Vatican  by David Yallop (Carroll Graf).

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee (Knopf in US, Chatto & Windus in UK)


Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist by Lois Gordon (Columbia University Press)

Flash: This title was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, April 1, 2007

Emerson and Eros: The Making of a Cultural Hero by Len Gougeon (State University of New York Press)

New Cache of American Communism Documents
flynn from NYU collectionThe Communist Party USA has donated a huge collection of its papers and photographs to New York University.  The New York Times's Patricia Cohen reports, "every box offers up a different morsel of history. One contains a 1940 newsletter from students at City College in New York criticizing Britain for betraying the Jews in Palestine; another has a 1964 flyer from the Metropolitan Council on Housing urging rent strikes "to oppose the decontrol of over-$250 apartments." There are the handwritten lyrics to Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!"; a letter from W. E. B Du Bois in 1939 denying he took money from Japan for propagandizing on its behalf; and detailed complaints of police brutality against African-Americans."
New York Times
, March 20, 2007, page 1

The collection will be housed at
Tamiment Library
at NYU.  The 1918 photograph of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (above right) is in their collection.
Worth Reading
Burkardt, Maxwell, and a Typewriter

In her biography of William Maxwell, the famed fiction editor of The New Yorker, Barbara Burkhardt described meeting with her subject and the unusual way her interviews with him unfolded.

He took me to a small back room filled with papers upon papers, odd furniture, a photo of his poet friend, Robert Fitzgerald (alsos a central Illinoisan whom he met at Harvard), and his daughter Brookie's drawing of the very park and river I had seen outside-the cover art for his first story collection. Maxwell had switched form a manual to an electric typewriter only in later years and preferred answering questions on his clattering Coronamatic. "I think better on the typewriter than I do just talking," he told me. After carefully considering each of my queries, he rolled a sheet of paper into his typewriter and composed for up to five minutes at a time. He paused occasionally, his lips moving slightly as he reread the words through tortoiseshell glasses. Once satisfied, he turned the typewriter stand around on its squeaky wheels so I could read the response. The next summer, he arrived at the Croton-Harmon railway station wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat and drove me to his country home in Yorktown Heights. There, he suspended a long extension cord through the back window and brought his typewriter outdoors, where we sat for two afternoons at a picnic table on the patio overlooking a rolling lawn, flower beds, and an art studio that belonged to his wife, Emily, who served brie, bacon, and tomato sandwiches and berries with crème fraiche. Sitting by his side allowed me to read his words as he typed them. I could ask follow-up questions immediately, which made for a smooth interchange--a true conversation. Although this interview procedure may seem unusual, communicating through a typewriter was natural, even personal for Maxwell, a man who spent his career crafting stories at the keyboard. His nimble, sinewy hands, which John Blades of the Chicago Tribune aptly likened to "tree roots photographed in slow motion," embodied both the power and tenderness of his words.

From William Maxwell: A Literary Life. Copyright 2005 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with permission of the author and the University of Illinois Press

For more information on the book and the author, visit these two websites:



  Tips Corner
Research ideas contributed by readers

Goodbye Index Cards?

Zotero is new, free-of-charge research software developed by the Center for History and the New Media at George Mason University. According to its developers the software allows one to gather and organize articles and bibliographical information and then annotate and organize it all. It reportedly combines features available in older software like EndNote with features available on iTunes. The 1.0 beta release of Zotero may be downloaded at http://www.zotero.org

Thanks to Washington writer John Blair for this great tip.

Have a great tip?

Send it to editor@the biographerscraft.com

In This Issue
Nasaw Wins NYHS Prize
Memoir Wins UK Biography Prize
UK's Biographers Club
Free DNB Magazine
Sold to Publishers
Coming to Bookstores
New USA Communism Archive
Worth Reading
Tips Corner
Our Sponsors
From the Editor's Desk
THANK YOU! The reception for the first issue of The Biographer's Craft was so encouraging that I am back with its next issue. You should now see an issue every month. If you like what you read, please forward a copy to your friends and colleagues.

All things British! No, we have not moved to London, but this month we have a kind of British theme with a report on an English book prize, information on a UK Biography Club, and news of a new Oxford University Press magazine.

We have also inaugurated some exciting new features. These include two listing of forthcoming biographies, those sold to publishers and those on their way to stores, and a feature that will run excerpts from introductions to biographies that address interesting issues regarding our craft.

Next month we will start featuring reviews of books that relate to the field of biography.

Happy reading,
James McGrath Morris
P.S. Please forward this newsletter to your friends so they can sign up!
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Life Stories
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Writing Basics, a yearbook published by Writer's Digest, is featuring a reprint of my article "Bringing Life Stories to Life." The yearbook is on newstands until the end of June. It sells for $5.99.


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