Autumn's Crop of Biographies
It may be that TBC's crack research team, who did not attend
the BEA this year (budget cuts, you know) missed learning about some
blockbusters. But if one is to judge the Fall 2009 season by the list of
forthcoming biographies submitted by publishers to Publishers Weekly, the Bible of our industry, it's not one
overflowing with exciting and noteworthy biographies.
season turns out to be lackluster, it's not a worrisome state. There are many
major biographies in the pipeline. Ron Chernow is finishing one on George
Washington, Charles J. Shield's biography of the late Kurt Vonnegut is expected
out in 2010, and Adam Begley is at work on a John Updike biography, to name a
few examples of highly anticipated works.
Here is a
short preview of the fall season:
which published the recent successful biography on Vanderbilt, has put its
hopes in reader interest in royalty and movies stars. It will publish William
Shawcross's Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother and Michael Feeney Callan's Robert Redford: The Biography. Both books are based on cooperation
by the subjects and unprecedented access to documents.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is also counting on star power to
lift its sales. It will bring out William H. Mann's How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood. Clint "Make
My Day" Eastwood is the subject of Marc Eliot's American Rebel, to be published by Harmony.
The life of one of the century's most
politically influential novelists, Ayn Rand, will be told in Anne C. Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made.
Published by Nan A. Talese, the book is based on original research in
Russia, dozens of interviews with Rand's acquaintances and former acolytes, and
previously unexamined archives of tapes and letters. The life of another
Russian writer will also be in stores. Joseph Frank's five-volume biography of
writer Fyodor Dostoevsky will be condensed into a new single-volume edition that
Princeton University Press will publish under the title Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time.
figures will get their share of books. The late Texas writer Molly Ivins will be
remembered in a biography by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith (Public Affairs.)
Other works include David Crocket in Congress:
The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man's Friend, by James R. Boylston and Allen
J. Wiener (Bright Sky Press); Keynes: The
Rise, Fall, and Return of the Twentieth Century's Most Influential Economist,
by Peter Clarke (Bloomsbury); Harold
Macmillan, by Charles Williams (Orion/Widenfeld & Nicholson); and Honorable Survivor, by Lynne Joiner
(Naval Institute Press), about the life of John S. Service, the U.S. foreign
service officer who predicted the rise of Mao Zedong and then became Senator
McCarthy's first victim in the 1950s Red Scare. Simon & Schuster is rolling
out 125,000 copies of The Last Empress:
Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China, by Hannah Pakula.
football star who died while serving as an Army ranger in Afghanistan is the
subject of Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win
Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tilman (Doubleday).
years of artist Georgia O'Keeffe will be featured in the second of a two-volume
biography by Nancy Reily from Sunstone Press.
long-awaited (at least in the editor's home) Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power will be published by HarperCollins in February, the last month of the traditional fall season.
Ivan Dee Moves Forward with a New Series of Biographies on African-American Figures
A biography of Booker T. Washington is the second in a new
series of books being published by the Chicago-based Ivan R. Dee publishing
company. Called the Library of African-American Biography, the series "aims to
provide concise, readable, and up-to-date lives of leading black figures in
American history, in widely varying fields of accomplishment," according to the
T. Washington: Black Leadership in the Age of Jim Crow, the new entry into the series, was
written by Raymond W. Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for
Legislative Studies at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and
co-editor, with Louis Harlan, of the fourteen-volume Booker T. Washington
The series is being edited by John
David Smith, the Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History
at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Smith tells TBC that books on the following subjects are under
contract: Marcus Garvey, by Mark Huddle; Jackie Robinson, by Chris Schutz; and
Richard Wright, by Jennifer Jensen Wallach.
BIO Committee Adopts Proposed Mission Statement; Bylaws Are Next
BIO's twenty-two-member international founding committee has completed its work drafting a mission statement (see TBC, April 2009). It is now beginning work on approving a proposed set of bylaws.
It is hoped that the committee will conclude its work in July and be able to send the mission statement and bylaws to the BIO membership for approval in August. Assuming the membership
approves the mission statement and bylaws, the next step will be to elect
officers and board members, which could be accomplished as early as September.
Meanwhile planning continues for a
spring conference, to be called "The Compleat Biographer," featuring workshops
on such practical aspects of the craft as choosing a subject, funding your research,
dealing with your subject's family, hiring a researcher by long distance, and
note-taking systems, among other topics.
If you have topic ideas or would like to volunteer to help organize the spring conference, please contact us.
Caro Is 2009 Levy Center Lecturer; Milford Steps Down as Executive Director
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro, at work on the
final volume of his biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, will be the 2009 Leon Levy Center for Biography lecturer. His speech is scheduled for September 29 at
the center. Watch for more information on how to attend the talk in coming
issues of TBC.
The center is making some
leadership changes. Nancy Milford is stepping down as executive director in
order to concentrate her time on completing her biography of Rose Kennedy. She
will remain associated with the center as a biographer-in-residence for the
next two years. David Nasaw will assume the post of acting executive director until such time as a replacement has been found for Milford.
John Matteson: A Levy Center Fellow
In its first two years the Leon Levy
Center for Biography has awarded eight one-year $60,000 fellowships to
biographers. The fellowships are among the most competitive and significant
funding awards available to biographers. TBC is running profiles of the four
2009-2010 fellows. In May we featured Mary Lisa Gavenas and in June Wendy Lesser. Next
month it will be Vanda Krefft.
John T. Matteson hopes the Levy Center Fellowship he won will
permit him to finish the manuscript of his next biography by the end of the
academic year. An associate professor of English at John Jay College of
Criminal Justice, Matteson will be working on a book similar to Eden's
Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, which won him the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for
His new subject is Margaret Fuller, a
nineteenth-century journalist, critic, and
women's rights activist, as well as a prominent female figure of American
Transcendentalism. "I chose to write about Margaret Fuller because she
enables me both to explore further some of the central concerns that engaged me
in Eden's Outcasts and to take my biographical writing to what I
consider a deeper and more rewarding level," Matteson told TBC.
"I continue to be deeply interested
in the daughters of noteworthy fathers who took an unusual interest in the
education of their daughters. In that sense, Fuller resembles Louisa May
Alcott. Also like Louisa, Fuller lived a life with numerous exciting and
unusual episodes, and I find her experiences every bit as captivating as her
writings. The difference with Fuller is her intellectual depth. Alcott had a
very playful, common-sense intellect, one that gravitated toward the
contemplation of everyday life. Fuller's mind had many more layers and
complexities. There is a philosophical richness there that I find
Like many biographers working on a
subject about whom there is a lot of material, Matteson faces the challenge of
not getting lost, nor losing the reader, in an overflow of information. "The
trick is to tell the story with a sense of its fullness without losing sight of
one's narrative. One discovers quickly with Fuller that merely supplying
information is not the same as telling a story. Another challenge where she is
concerned has to do with the unusually rich supporting cast of characters.
Fuller had important relationships with a number of heavyweights: Emerson,
Greeley, Mazzini, and the Brownings, to name just a handful. It's tempting to
get too involved in their stories and to forget to place Fuller at center
On the other hand, Matteson has one
of the great nineteenth-century lives to tell. Fuller constantly reinvented
herself and was still evolving when her life was cut short at forty. "Her
personal metamorphosis from child prodigy to misfit to intellectual to activist
is one of the richest stories of personal growth ever enacted in America."
"Working on the Alcotts was perhaps a bit like writing a Haydn
symphony. Fuller is the stuff of grand opera."
Chronicling America Posts Its Millionth Page
Chronicling America, the joint
project of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the
Humanities to create an online text-searchable collection of American
newspapers, posted its millionth page in June.
the project hopes to post 20 million pages of newspapers from 1880 to 1922.
Currently researchers can scour papers from twelve states, but publications
from other states are rapidly becoming available as more state organizations
receive funding to select their regional papers and digitize them for the
project. The University of Kentucky Libraries, for example, have processed
thirty-seven of that state's papers. The NEH has distributed $11.6 million to
state organizations for the project.
The National Digital Newspaper
Program (NDNP) is a partnership between the NEH, the Library of Congress, and
state organizations to
provide enhanced access to U.S. newspapers published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. NEH awards support state
projects to select and digitize historically significant titles that are
aggregated and permanently maintained by the Library of Congress.
list of the newspapers already available may be found here.
Accessible Archives Expands Its South Carolina Newspaper Collection
Accessible Archives, a publisher of electronic full-text
searchable historical databases, has added four titles and renamed its
Charleston, South Carolina, newspaper database South Carolina Newspapers to reflect its broader collection.
"While digitizing the South Carolina Gazette we discovered a
group of papers published in and around Charleston offering a variety of views
and coverage," explained Tom Nagy, an executive with the firm. "By adding them
to the collection we are able to provide a broader coverage of colonial America
and events leading up to an affecting the American Revolution."
Booklist's Top Ten Biographies
Booklist has made its selection of the ten best biographies reviewed in
its pages since June 2008.
They are as follows:
The Beautiful Soul of John
Woolman, Apostle of Abolition, by
Thomas P. Slaughter (Hill & Wang)
by Blake Bailey (Knopf)
- The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of
Labor and His Moral Conscience, by
Kirstin Downey (Doubleday/Nan A. Talese)
- The Hemingses
of Monticello: An American Family, by
Annette Gordon-Reed (Norton)
- Le Corbusier, by
Nicholas Fox Weber (Knopf)
- Mary Austin and the
American West, by Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson (University
- My Happiness Bears No
Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century, by Adina
- A Passion for Nature: The
Life of John Muir, by Donald Worster (Oxford)
- Up from History: The Life
of Booker T. Washington, by Robert J. Norrell (Harvard/Belknap)
- Yogi Berra: Eternal
Yankee, by Allen Barra (Norton)
In the three months since TBC inaugurated this new feature of
posting photographs of our work spaces, it has become the most popular item in
This month we are featuring the office of
Stephen H. Grant,
author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First
Consul to Senegal. He is currently at work on a biography of Henry
and Emily Folger, founders of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Be sure to visit TBC's Room of Our Own Web page for other photographs.
Send your photos to us.
Amanuensis: A person
whose employment is to write what another dictates, or to copy what another has
written. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
What does it feel like to invite an extremely distinguished,
highly strung stranger into your home, into your head, for a few years? Would
anyone in their right mind do it? Biographers do. But what happens to the rest
of your life when a troubled genius lurks, waiting in the study in the morning
and ambushing dreams at night? [Read more]
--Susie Boyt, Financial
I can think of only two really good
reasons to read biographies. One is to learn interesting things about history
and the world, which for many guys really means becoming the indisputable
master of some narrow field of knowledge. (Did you know it is possible to
construct a busy reading life without ever straying from books about Abraham
Lincoln?) The other good reason is to get the dirt. Reading about heroes can
only take you so far. I'd rather read about people who are at least as
despicable as me, or worse than I will ever dare to be.[Read more]
--David Wright, Booklist
Tips Corner: A Boon for Those Doing Military Research
A few years ago the
U.S. Army's Center of Military History launched a Web catalog of its
publications. Recently the catalog has been revamped to make it comprehensive.
It now lists more than six hundred publications, stretching back to the
Other improvements include increased search capabilities and links that expand the contents.
Bill Olbrich, a government information specialist at the St. Louis Public Library, says "The
USACMH books are high-quality, well-written materials." Most of the titles
can be found in larger federal depository libraries, which include most
academic institutions with at least 10,000 students and most public libraries
with city populations of 300,000 or more.
"The center's staff is unusually
helpful to the clueless researcher," writes Olbrich in a Web posting. He adds, "No, they
did not bribe me to write this recommendation."
From the Editor's Desk
I recently told my walking companion--we're both working on
swimsuit figures--that my book's launch had been moved up a month. "You mean
preponed?" he said. Seeing that I was startled by his unusual choice of words,
my erudite colleague, a retired nuclear physicist, explained that "prepone" (as
an antonym to "postpone") was a word he heard many years ago when he went on a
lecture tour to India.
Being the doubtful and skeptical
researcher, I checked. Not only has it been used for more than fifty years in
India, it is now gaining favor in the medical profession, especially in Canada.
Amazing what one can learn from a
scientist. I'm thinking of a new marketing line for books and movies: "Preponed
by popular demand!"
This issue is certainly not
preponed. We endeavor to get it by the first of each month. Travel, sickness,
and cataract surgery made us run late this month.
Also, there is no calendar this
month and the lack of events may cause us to pull the August calendar. But be
sure to send in a listing of your events for the fall so that our readers don't
miss out on learning about them.
Not a biography but bound to be of
interest to biographers is Trudy Balch's translation of a bestselling
Spanish-language autobiography of Gaby Brimmer, a Jewish-Mexican writer and
disability activitist. Published by Brandeis University Press/University Press
of New England, Gaby Brimmer: An
Autobiography in Three Voices is told by means of a three-way conversation
between Brimmer, her mother, and her caregiver. Elena Poniatowska, known for
works based on interviews and oral histories, provides an introduction.
James McGrath Morris
P.S. Don't forget to submit a photo of your workplace for our Room of Our Own Web page.
Link Yourself to Other Biographers, Editors, Agents, and Readers.
Make sure your Web page is listed in the TBC Directory of Biographers
Sold to Publishers
The following are among the biographies recently sold to publishers, as reported by Publishers Marketplace and other sources.
Shearer, Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr, to
Thomas Dunne Books
Harlow Giles Unger,
to Da Capo
Bill Minutaglio and W.
Michael Smith, She Said That: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, An American
Original, to Public Affairs
The following are biographies in stores this month. In cooperation with Publishers Weekly, many titles are accompanied by a link to the PW review.
The Life and Times of an American Legend
by Larry Tye
Brown's War Against Slavery
by Robert E. McGlone
(Cambridge University Press)
William Henry Seward and the
Secession Crisis: The Effort to Prevent Civil War
by Lawrence M. Denton
Supremes: A Saga of Motown Dreams, Success, and Betrayal
by Mark Ribowsky
Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and the Church: A Biography
by Robert Dean Lurie
Bob Zuppke: The Life and
Football Legacy of the Illinois Coach
by Maynard Brichford
Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's
by David Roberts
Life of Mary Queen of Scots: An Accidental Tragedy
by Roderick Graham
The United States Army in the
War of 1812: Concise Biographies of Commanders and Operational Histories of
Regiments, with Bibliographies of Published and Primary Sources
by John C.
Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired
James McGrath Morris,
P.O. Box 660
Tesuque, NM 87574
Photo of James McGrath Morris
by Michael Mudd