The Biographer's Craft
A monthly newsletter for
writers & readers of biography
August 2009
  Vol. 3, No.6
TBC Readers Get Early Crack at Seats for Caro Speech at the Levy Center for Biography

CaroBy special arrangement, a group of seats have been set aside for TBC readers wishing to attend Robert A. Caro's September lecture in New York. Each year the Leon Levy Center for Biography selects a biographer of note to give the annual lecture on the process of researching and writing a biography, with a focus on their current work in progress. Caro, the well-known biographer of Robert Moses and Lyndon Baines Johnson, will give the 2009 lecture on September 29.
     Readers wishing to obtain one of these reserved seats must email their name, address, and phone number to us no later than midnight MDT August 31. You will receive a reply that will include instructions and restrictions on the reservations.
     A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Caro is the author of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York and The Years of Lyndon Johnson, the latter comprising three published volumes to date: The Path to Power, Means of Ascent, and Master of the Senate. Caro is currently at work on his fourth and final volume, an examination of Johnson's years in the White House.
     His September 29th lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in Elebash Recital Hall at the Graduate Center, the City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York.

Presenters Sought for 2010 "Compleat Biographer" Conference as BIO Nears Establishment
Biographers International Organization (BIO) is seeking biographers who are willing to put on a workshop, chair a panel discussion, or make a presentation at the first ever Compleat Biographer conference, tentatively scheduled for May 23, 2010.
     It is expected that BIO will become formally established this fall, and preparation is underway for its first professional conference. The day-long meeting will probably be held in Boston, New York, or New Jersey. The conference will focus on practical aspects of the craft and art of biography. Among the proposed topics are:Angler
  • choosing a subject;
  • dealing with the family of your subject;
  • beyond the advance: funding your research
  • when you can't get there: hiring a researcher by long distance;
  • Internet research;
  • note-taking systems; and
  • publicizing your biography.
     If you wish to be a presenter, please write to us.

Personal Historians to Meet in October
The keynote speakers at the annual conference of the Association of Personal Historians will be Maureen Taylor, an expert on genealogy and photography; Charles Hardy III, president of the Oral History Association; and Lily Koppel, author of The Red Leather Diary. The conference is scheduled for October 21 through October 25 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
     Among the more than two-dozen panels and workshops at the conference are the following:
  • Corporate and Organizational Histories: How to Get the Biz and Do the Work, presented by Pat McNees
  • Lessons from the Memoir Revolution: How to Improve Your Product, presented by Jerry Waxler
  • The Nuts and Bolts of Video Biographies: What You Need to Know to Run a Business, presented by Teri Dugg
     For more information, consult the Association of Personal Historians's website.

Vanda Krefft: 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, in June Wendy Lesser, and in July John Matteson.
KrefftThe writer Vanda Krefft first learned about William Fox through a colleague and friend, the late Angela Fox Dunn, who was the movie mogul's niece. "Angela, who spent time with Fox during her childhood and whose mother had been his favorite sibling, had many colorful, lively stories about 'Uncle Bill,'" Krefft told TBC. But for a long time, Krefft assumed that Fox's biography had already been written. "Then I checked, realized that it hadn't been done, and began to investigate," she said.
     "The more I learned, the richer the story became. I began to see it not just as the story of someone who goes from absolutely nothing to the full realization of his dream, only to lose it completely, but also as the story of his time and place, early twentieth-century America. Fox was also a very compelling personality--an expert storyteller with a masterful command of pacing, drama, and humor; a shrewd yet visionary businessman who had only a third-grade education; and an extraordinarily moral person who was motivated largely by a desire to help others while he helped himself."
     Once she started her research, Krefft quickly understood why no serious biography of Fox had ever been done. He left no personal papers, and the movie studio he founded, 20th Century Fox, kept virtually no significant documents from his time. "This was the greatest challenge I faced at the outset. However, it also turned out to be a great opportunity because it prompted me to think about other places where information about such a public life would show up. And, thanks to the Internet, it's now possible to locate and access those resources."
     Krefft will bring a wealth of newspaper and magazine writing experience to the project. Over the years her work has appeared in Elle, Redbook, Woman's Day, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. HarperCollins will publish her Fox biography, which is her first book. Based in Los Angeles, Krefft will spend the coming year exploring Fox's life in New York, where he kept his home and where the company was headquartered.
     "The Levy fellowship is a great blessing that will allow me to explore in depth all the relevant information at many of the city's libraries and museums," said Krefft. "I'll also be able to visit the places where significant events in Fox's life occurred."

Stars and Stripes Now Available Online
starsWorking in partnership with Stars and Stripes, a daily independent publication for the U.S. military, has digitized a large portion of the archive of the newspaper and made it available online. The searchable database currently includes the years 1948 to 1999. By the end of the year, the company hopes to have added the World War II era.
     One can only access's collection, however, by subscribing to the service or by using a terminal in an institution that subscribes. Early editions of the newspaper, from February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919, may be searched online, free of charge, at the Library of Congress.
     The first issue of Stars and Stripes was published by Union soldiers during the Civil War. It was revived during World War I, published in Paris in 1918 to serve members of the American Expeditionary Force under General of the Armies John J. "Black Jack" Pershing. Some of its staff went on to become famous journalists, including Private Harold Ross, who later became the founder and editor of the New Yorker magazine.
     After the war the newspaper ceased publication but was started again in World War II and has remained in print since.

Picture This

In the four months since TBC inaugurated this new feature of posting photographs of our work spaces, it has become the most popular item in the newsletter.
   Diekman  This month at TBC's Room of Our Own we are featuring the office of Diane Diekman, who has published two memoirs, A Farm in the Hidewood and Navy Greenshirt, as well as one biography, Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story. She is currently writing Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins, with a tentative publication date of 2012.
     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 (1913)

Few of us leave instructions for our future biographers. Anne Sullivan Macy did so. The woman best known as the teacher of Helen Keller wanted to be remembered as a skilled and innovative educator--but without the idolization that came along with working miracles. In "Foolish Remarks of a Foolish Woman," a self-compiled collection of short reflections, she directed future biographers to avoid such veneration. "I have met a number of famous men uneventfully," she wrote, "but I have learned something about them. They are Human like the rest of us, they are not gods or even sacred cows as their biographers would have us believe. [Read more]
--Kim E. Nielsen, GM History News Network

All libraries are, of course, petri dishes of simmering lust, but the BL is extreme: its walls contain more erotic pressure than an oil rig, a North Sea fishing trawler, and several series of Mad Men combined. And it turns out that I'm not alone in thinking so. [Read more]
--Sathnam Sanghera, London Times

Tips Corner: Doing Oral History for a Biography

Conducting interviews is an important aspect of research for those biographers lucky enough to be working on a subject for whom there are still living sources. Biographers with journalistic training are often well equipped to do this work. For those who don't have such training or experience, here are some websites with useful advice:

Tips for Interviewers, from the Regional Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library at Berkeley.
U.S. Army Guide to Oral History is available free-of-charge in an HTML or PDF version.

Tips on Conducting an Oral History, for a class at Washington University, in both Word and HTML.

Sixteen specific interviewing tips adapted from an article by Bob Brooks.

In This Issue
Seats for TBC Readers at Caro Talk
Presenters Wanted for BIO Conference
Personal Historians to Gather
Krefft: A Levy Fellow
Stars & Stripes Online
Picture This
Tips Corner
From the Editor's Desk
At our July editorial staff meeting a reoccurring topic of discussion came up. No, it had nothing to do with the budget cuts that resulted in closing down the espresso bar. Rather, it was the summer doldrums. A large contingency of our writers, editors, and graphic artists have been pushing to combine the July and August issues. Let's face it: these are not the busiest months in our business. Successful biographers are sipping Tom Collinses on Martha's Vineyard, and the less successful ones, well, they are quietly plotting their ascension.
    In the end, we opted to continue publishing monthly and not combine any issues. But, as a compromise to our overworked staff, you will note the August issue is light on content.
"It's not unusual for biographers to fall in love with their subjects," notes Heller McAlpin in her review of Camus: A Romance in the Washington Post, which abandoned its book review section but still runs reviews in its pages. What is unusual, McAlpin continues, "is for a biographer to address a lifelong passion for her subject as directly as [the author] Elizabeth Hawes does." Read the review for a fascinating tale of Hawes's on-and-off decades-long attraction to Camus.
   The issue is never far for any of us who spend years with a subject. I have written about two men who are hard to love (in one case a murderer), so I am often asked how I stuck with the research and the writing. The answer, it seems to me, is that readers often confuse the fuel of passion. In Hawes's case it may well be love. But in many situations, as in mine, it's a burning fascination with our subjects that drive us. The latter seems more suitable to our craft because one is able to see a subject's clay feet. Lovers rarely do.

Happy reading,

James McGrath Morris

P.S. New trend? Two biographies listed below as sold to publishers in July are now in stores.

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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.

Detmar Blow with Tom Sykes, Blow by Blow: The Story of Isabella Blow, to Harper

Alana Stewart, My Journey with Farrah: A Story of Life, Love, and Friendship, to Harper, for publication on
August 11, 2009

Avi Shilon, Begin: 1913-1992, to Yale University Press

John Little, Catherine's Gift: Inside the World of Dr. Catherine Hamlin, to Lion Hudson Books

Ian Halperin, Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson, to Simon Spotlight Entertainment,
for publication on
July 14, 2009

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. 

The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds the Making of an American Legend
by Jeff Leen
(Atlantic Monthly Press)
PW Review
America's Girl: The Incredible Story of How Swimmer Gertrude Ederle Changed the Nation
by Tim Dahlberg, with Mary Ederle Ward and Brenda Greene
(St. Martin's)
PW Review
Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up by K. C. Cole
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
PW Review
Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels
by Tristram Hunt (Metropolitan)
PW Review
Fidel and Che: A Revolutionary Friendship
by Simon Reid-Henry
PW Review
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
by Benjamin Moser
(Oxford University Press)
PW Review
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe
by J. Randy Taraborrelli
(Grand Central Publishing)
Madoff with the Money by Jerry Oppenheimer

 Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff
by Erin Arvedlund 



James McGrath Morris,

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

Photo of James McGrath Morris
by Michael Mudd