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The Biographer's Craft
A monthly newsletter for
writers & readers of biography
February 2009
 Vol. 2, No.12
Levy Center March Conference to Focus on New Forms of Biography; BIO Founding Meeting to be Held Same Day

On March 26, the Leon Levy Center for Biography, launched last year with a major grant from the Levy Foundation, will hold what it hopes will become an annual conference on biography. The conference will take place in the Elebash Recital Hall of the Graduate Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. All events are free-of-charge and open to the public.
      The founding meeting of Biographers International Organization (BIO) will precede the conference. For details on this, see the article below.
      The Levy Center conference will begin at 1 p.m. with a screening of the decade-old biographical documentary about the late German actor Klaus Kinski. Werner Herzog's Mein liebster Feind--Klaus Kinski (released in English as My Best Fiend) opened to mixed reviews in 1999 yet remains popular among the director's fans, as is evidenced by an enthusiastic review of the film on the Alternative Film Guide website.
      At 3 p.m. biographer Benita Eisler will give a talk entitled "Literary Biography for the Twenty-first Century." Eisler, a Manhattan writer, is the author of Byron, O'Keeffe and Stieglitz: An American Romance and Naked in the Marketplace: The Lives of George Sand. She will be joined by John Matteson, a member of the CUNY faculty and winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in biography for his book Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.
     At 4 p.m. Eiji Han Shimizu, founder of the Emotional Content and BioGraphic Novel series, and Kai-Ming Cha, who covers comics and manga (graphic novels) for Publishers Weekly, will discuss biographies in manga and anime. After their forty-five minute presentation, there will be a talk on the intersection of biography and jazz studies by Columbia professor of comparative literature and African-American studies Farah Griffin and tenor saxophonist, composer, and jazz educator Salim Washington.
     Following their discussion, freelance writer Darcy Frey, author of The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, will give a talk entitled "The Journalist as Biographer." The conference will close with "Curating Biography," a presentation by staff members of the National Portrait Gallery, including director Martin Sullivan, public program director Jewel Robinson, and historian David Ward.
     For program details and last-minute changes, consult the Leon Levy Center for Biography website.

Final Preparations Underway for Creation of Biographers International Organization
BIO logo 
It's official. The founding meeting for Biographers International Organization (BIO) will be held on March 26, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Skylight Room at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, immediately prior to the commencement of the first Levy Center conference on biography (see above article). The space for the BIO meeting is being donated by the Levy Center.
     The realization of the proposed organization critically depends on how many people are interested in participating. Please take a minute to send us an email with answers to the following questions:
  1. Will you attend this important meeting?
  2. If you cannot attend but support the creation of BIO, would you be interested in becoming a member?
      If created, BIO would seek to advance the professional interests of career-focused and aspiring biographers through networking, advocacy, increasing access to resources, and providing legal advice.
     Under the preliminary plans, BIO would seek fiscal sponsorship from an existing non-profit organization rather than creating a new 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt group. The fiscal sponsor would accept donations on BIO's behalf, provide the donor with a tax deduction, and manage the funds. In time, if BIO gets off the ground, it could grow into its own organization.
Biography and State of Publishing Will Be Topic of Major Panel Discussion
Biography and the current state of publishing will be the topic of a March 26 panel discussion sponsored by the Biographers' Club of London. The panel will be chaired by Michael Holroyd, the noted biographer of Lytton Strachey and Bernard Shaw, among others.
    Panelists will include Alexandra Pringle, publisher at Bloomsbury; Andrew Lownie, literary agent and founder of the Biographers' Club; Clara Farmer, editor at Chatto & Windus; and Andrew Hayward, sales and marketing director at Constable & Robinson, according to club secretary Susan Ronald.
     The event, which includes a reception, will take place from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Read Lecture Theatre of the Imperial College in London. The fee is £25 (£3 less than previously advertised).
A Biography Worthy of a Presidential Gift
In addition to singing a stirring version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at the inauguration, Aretha Franklin gave President Barack Obama a box containing recordings of seventeen sermons by her father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin, one of the most celebrated pastors and orators of the civil rights era.
     Along with the recordings, Franklin also included a copy of Nick Salvatore's 2005 biography of her father, Singing in a Strange Land (Little, Brown), the first full study of Reverend Franklin, whose rise to eminence paralleled the rise of the black church as a force in the civil rights movement.Salvatore
     Salvatore is the Maurice and Hinda Neufeld Founders Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and professor of American studies at Cornell. He is the author of Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (1982), which received the Bancroft Prize in history and the John H. Dunning Prize, and We All Got History: The Memory Books of Amos Webber (1996), recipient of the New England History Association's Outstanding Book prize.
Chronicling the Grateful Dead for Would-be Deadheads
In taking on what might seem a choice assignment to write a collective biography of the members of the Grateful Dead, Michele C. Hollow had to navigate treacherous shoals. The contract came from Enslow Publishers, whose readers tend to be young. The target audience for Hollow's book is fifth to twelfth graders, many of whom have no idea that "Cherry Garcia" is referencing more than an ice cream flavor.
     Basic education on the subject was necessary, yet any realistic portrait of the iconic group would mean looking at the role sex and drugs played in the culture they created, and those topics had to be handled with care for this audience.
     "To be honest," said Hollow, "my editor wanted me to skip over these topics, but they really needed to be discussed." The resulting book, Grateful Dead: What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been, to be published this month, directly addresses Jerry Garcia's addiction to heroin and the deaths of band members Vince Welnick and Brent Mydland.
     But Hollow made sure that the 104-page book focused primarily on the musical story. "When I interviewed Bob Weir [lead signer and songwriter for the Dead], I wanted to know what motivated him to become a musician," said Hollow. "What I found was that Bob, and all the other members of the Dead and others around them, were intensely focused on the music. For them, the music came first."
     So it is with the book. The music comes first.
     Hollow's book is the first in a planned series, Rebels of Rock series, to include volumes on Kiss, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, the Ramones, the Clash, and Black Sabbath.
Significant Collection of African-American Newspapers to Soon be Available Online

This fall 270 African-American newspapers published in thirty-six states between 1827 and 1998 will be released in an online newspaper collection from Readex.
     The collection is being created from the newspaper archives in the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Kansas State Historical Society, and the Library of Congress. Selections were guided by James Danky, editor of African-American Newspapers and Periodicals: A National Bibliography.
    Beginning with Freedom's Journal, the first African-American newspaper published in the United States, the titles include the Colored Citizen (KS), the Arkansas State Press, the Rights of All (NY), the Wisconsin Afro-American, the New York Age, L'Union (LA), the Northern Star, the Freeman's Advocate (NY), the Richmond Planet, the Cleveland Gazette, The Appeal (MN), and hundreds of others from every region of the United States.
Your Personal Amanuensis

Amanuensis: A person whose employment is to write what another dictates, or to copy what another has written. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

We live today in a far more conservative world than the world Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were striving for. These are censorious times; it would be harder today to publish the kinds of things they wrote. These are puritanical times; we look askance at sexual adventuring. These are anti-intellectual times; the notion of the public intellectual has all but disappeared. These are shallow times; even the mainstream press stoops to sensationalism in its desperation to sell newspapers and magazines. In these times it is fashionable to trivialize Beauvoir and Sartre, to diminish their life and work, and denounce everything they stood for. I loved writing Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, which appeared in the United States in 2005. Never have I written a book in such white-heat intensity; never have I taken more pleasure in writing a book. The problems began when I finished it. . . [read more]
--Hazel Rowley
The American Scholar, Winter 2009

In This Issue
Levy Center Conference
BIO Founding Meeting
Bio & State of Industry
A Bio for Obama
Young Deadheads
Black Newspapers Online
Personal Amanuensis
From the Editor's  Desk
There is both a good reason and a cautionary tale about over-identifying with your subject behind the more austere February edition of TBC.
   In the middle of January, I was working frenetically to complete the last section of my forthcoming biography of Joseph Pulitzer (HarperCollins). As I was honing the final pages, the vision in my left eye began to diminish dramatically. After delivering the manuscript to FedEx, I was fortunate to obtain an appointment with an ophthalmologist the following day.
   Before I reached his office, I knew all too well what was happening. My symptoms were identical to those I had laboriously researched to portray how Pulitzer went blind from retinal detachment at the height of his career. Luckily, in the century and half since, medicine has developed an operation and a therapy that saved my eye. Early the next morning I was in an operating room. As I write, this I am regaining full use of my eye. By the middle of March I shall be as good as new.
    But as I ponder my next subject, I am wondering if it might not be wiser to select a figure who lived a long and healthy life. This psychosomatic identification is the pits.

March 26 will bring three major events of interest to biographers. The Levy Center, in New York, will launch what it hopes will become an annual conference. BIO will hold its founding meeting. And the Biographers' Club, in London, will host an important panel discussion on the future of our craft. Each event is described in this month's TBC, and we will, of course, diligently cover each one. Additionally, we are thrilled to announce that, by special arrangements with the Biographers' Club, readers of TBC may submit questions for consideration by the club's eminent panelists. To do so, email your question to us and we will forward it onward.
Like many, I was skeptical when I heard the  rumor that the Washington Post might close Book World, one of the nation's two premier  weekly stand-alone newspaper sections devoted to book reviews. Unfortunately, the rumor proved true. Beginning in late February, book reviews will be tucked into other parts of the newspaper. Though executives claim that the change will reduce the number of reviews by only 25 percent, the disappearance of Book World is yet another blow to the shrinking source of reliable, independent book reviews.

Hope see many of you at the founding meeting of BIO next month in New York. Until then,

Happy reading,

James McGrath Morris

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Sold to Publishers

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

Andrea E. Mays,
The Man Who Saved Shakespeare: Henry Folger's Obsessive Chase for the First Folios
, to Simon & Schuster
David Maraniss, biography of Barack Obama, to Simon & Schuster
Kathleen Winters, Amelia Earhart: Her Flying Life, to Palgrave


In Stores

The following are biographies in stores this month. In cooperation with Publishers Weekly, many titles are accompanied by a link to the PW review. 

Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire
by Flora Fraser (Knopf)
PW Review

Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer
by Emanuel Levy
(St. Martin's)
PW Review
To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells
by Mia Bay
(Hill and Wang)
PW Review
Lincoln for President: An Underdog's Path to the 1860 Republican Nomination
by Timothy S. Good
Citizen-in-Chief: The Second Lives of the American Presidents by Leonard Benardo and Jennifer Weiss (Morrow)
PW Review
Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her
by Robin Gerber (Collins Business)
PW Review
Henry Toole Clark: Civil War Governor of North Carolina
by R. Matthew Poteat
Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years
by Cari Beauchamp (Knopf)
PW Review
The Fearless Harry Greb: Biography of a Tragic Hero of Boxing by Bill Paxton (McFarland)

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia
by James Palmer (Basic)
PW Review
Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme
by Tracy Daugherty (St. Martin's)
PW Review
Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
by Brad Gooch
(Little, Brown)
PW Review


Photo of  Holroyd by Jerry Bauer, Little, Brown.

Photo of Salvatore by Robert Barker, Cornell University Photography


James McGrath Morris, editor
Sarah Baldwin,
copy editor
Mailing address:
P.O. Box 660
Tesuque, NM  87574