Best-Selling Biography of 2010?
Kitty Kelley completed her much talked about biography of Oprah Winfrey
in January, and Crown Publishers is rushing to the printer to run off more than
half a million copies. Oprah: A Biography
will be released on April 13 in the U.S. and Canada in hardcover, audio, and electronic
spent three years researching and conducted 850 interviews to complete her 544-page
biography of the famous television talk-show host, movie producer, magazine publisher,
and sometime actress. She told TBC, "I had so looked forward to a breather (i.e.,
bubble baths and bonbons) but am already starting a piece for the American Scholar entitled 'In Defense
of the Unauthorized Biography.'" She invites readers who have any suggestions for the article to email her.
and even the subject of an unauthorized biography herself, Kelley has had four
of her previous biographies debut at number one on the New York Times best-seller list. The books were The Family, 2004; The Royals,
1997; Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography,
1991; and His Way, 1986. She also wrote
Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star (1981)
and Jackie Oh! (1978). Her books have
been published in 36 languages.
Compleat Biographer Conference Ranks Swell, Agents Roundtable Added to Lineup, Panelists Announced, Hotel Problems Being Fixed
Registration for the first-ever Compleat Biographer Conference,
to be held on May 15 at the University of Massachusetts Boston, continues apace,
exceeding the goals of organizers. The planning committee reports that all of the
programming is complete and an additional event has been added to the daylong conference.
In response to anxiety over electronic rights and other new issues,
the conference has invited a group of agents to do a presentation called "Agents
Roundtable: Representing Biographers in a Changing World." (Those who have already
registered may return to the registration website
and alter selections.)
lunch the conference will have a two-hour "speed-dating" session with agents for
unrepresented authors. Those wishing to participate should sign up while completing
the online registration. They will receive an email with further instructions. The
fee for the speed-dating session is $25.
Program and Panelists
Biographers International Organization (BIO) has also posted
full descriptions of the programs on its conference website
. In addition
biographies of the panelists are being added each day. Those leading sessions include,
- Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning
The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography
of Henry Ward Beecher;
- Maria Ascher, a senior editor at Harvard University
Press and an award-winning translator;
- Andre Bernard, author, former publisher, and now
vice president and secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation;
- James Bradley, author of the bestsellers Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys;
- Gayle Feldman, author of a forthcoming biography
of Bennett Cerf, co-founder of Random House;
- Nigel Hamilton, author of prize-winning biographies
of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and John F. Kennedy as well as Biography: A Brief History and How to Do Biography: A Primer;
Anne C. Heller, author of Ayn Rand and the World She Made;
Kitty Kelley, author of Oprah: A Biography, to be published on April 13;
Nancy Milford, author of Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Zelda: A Biography;
Charles J. Shields, author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee and
a forthcoming biography of Kurt Vonnegut;
T. J. Stiles, author of the National Book Award-winning
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius
Will Swift, author The Roosevelts and the Royals and The Kennedys Admist the Gathering Storm;
Lissa Warren, vice president, senior director of
publicity, and acquiring editor at Da Capo Press and author of The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity;
Steve Weinberg, author of Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller
and prolific reviewer of biographies.
Some registrants have experienced difficulties obtaining the
discounted hotel rooms. Ray Shepard, the site committee chair, reports that the
Doubletree Hotel is offering the promised discount, but registrants should be sure
to request the University of Massachusetts Boston discount in case the clerk is
unfamiliar with the conference. Shepard is also monitoring the demand for hotel
rooms and will procure other discounted rooms should the need arise. In any case, should you have trouble obtaining lodging, please write us
Leading Biographers Join BIO's Advisory Council
A large collection of leading and noted biographers has joined
the newly established Advisory Council of Biographers International Organization (BIO). The
council, which is still being formed, included at press time:
- Deirdre Bair
David Levering Lewis
William S. McFeely
Martin J. Sherwin
It is expected that more biographers from outside the United
States will be added to the council in coming months.
Irving Medal for Literary Excellence Given to Brian Jay Jones
One of the more distinguished New York City literary prizes was
awarded to Brian Jay Jones, author of Washington
Irving: An American Original. The Associated Press called the book "authoritative"
and the Washington Post's Michael Dirda praised it as "engaging, clearly written, and well researched."
received the Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence on February 4 at the
St. Nicholas Society of New York. Despite its name, the award does not require one
write about the famous American writer to win it. In fact, previous recipients include
David McCullough for his biography of Truman and Ron Chernow for his biography of
heady company indeed," said Jones, "and I'm humbled beyond words to have my name
appear alongside theirs."
Dropping the Pen and Opting for Film to Tell a Life
By Dona Munker
Documentary film maker and historian Suzanne Wasserman thought
briefly about writing a book about the popular Lower East Side Jewish writer Anzia
Yezierska, but since there were several biographies already, she decided to make
a short film instead.
week Wasserman completed work on Sweatshop
Cinderella, as the 1920s press dubbed Yezierska. Even though the film was to
run only 30 minutes, making it a reality proved exceptionally challenging because
no footage of Yezierska existed--and unlike books, documentaries require images,
especially moving images.
in the course of her research the filmmaker discovered a reel-to-reel taped interview
with her subject. By interweaving Yezierska's words and voice with stills and archival
footage, newspaper clippings, and excerpts from Hungry Hearts, a 1922 Hollywood silent film based on a best-selling collection
of short stories by the writer, she was able to write and produce her film.
Director of the Gotham Center for New York History at the City University of New
York Graduate Center, Wasserman produced her first biographical documentary in 2003. Its subject
was her cousin and fellow Chicagoan Janet Rosenberg Jagan, who married a Guyanese
political activist and who, after decades of working for that South American country's
independence from Britain, was elected Guyana's president in 1997.
that her relative was too private to cooperate in a print biography, Wasserman decided
to make a film about her public career and Guyana's complex political history. The
result, Thunder in Guyana, which was broadcast on PBS, won a Cine Golden
Eagle in 2004 and took the prize for best documentary at the Boston Jewish Film
Festival. (It is available on VHS and DVD from its distributor, Women Make Movies.)
does it take to turn a life into a documentary film? According to Wasserman, it
requires "a great story, a great central character, and access to the means
to bring them alive." She advises biographers who believe their subject
to be worthy of a future documentary to keep track of filmable materials, especially
images and film footage showing the subject. "You always," she says, "need
something for the audience to look at."
Dona Munker is a former college English teacher and trade book
editor in New York. Her book, Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her
Father's Harem through the Islamic Revolution, with Sattareh Farman-Farmaian,
was the first account in English of the life of a modern Middle Eastern woman. She
is currently writing Sara and Erskine, An American Romance, a book about
the love affair of poet and suffragist Sara Bard Field with the anarchist C. E.
S. Wood. She is also inching toward a long-planned blog on her website about the
intersection of research and literary imagination in biography, "Writing a
Biography, Imagining a Life."
Louis R. Harlan
Biographer Louis R. Harlan
Biographer and historian Louis R. Harlan, whose biography of
Booker T. Washington won him the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes, died on January 22,
at age 87, in Lexington, Virginia.
a lecture by John Hope Franklin in the 1940s set Harlan on the path of studying
and writing about race relations and Southern history. It took him three decades
to finish his two-volume biography of Washington, which he did while at the same
time editing the 14-volume edition of Washington's papers with Raymond L. Smock.
For more see the New York Times.
Elegant Novelist of Manners
and Biographer Louis Auchincloss
Louis Auchincloss, novelist, essayist, biographer, and editor,
died on January 26, at age 92, in New York.
a span of 70 years, while working as a lawyer, Auchincloss produced more than sixty
books. He was best known for his novel The
Rector of Justin, published in 1964, about the founding headmaster of an elite
addition to a short biography of Edith Wharton, with whose writing his own was compared,
he also wrote biographies of Cardinal Richelieu, Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt,
and Woodrow Wilson, as well as editing the diaries of two 19th-century Manhattan
grandees, Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong.
For more see the Washington Post.
Letters to the Editor
following letters came in response to a letter published in the January issue
I know just the children's biographies of accomplished women that Miriam Beyer read and would like to find again. They have been read
by generations of girls and were first published in the 1940s. I read the one about
Julia Ward Howe when I was young and never forgot it. A few years ago, I found myself
reviewing a new biography about Howe, and I discovered in the preface to that book
a reference to the "little book" I had read as a child.
The first editions
of these books were orange, as older people will remember. I have found that many,
many women remember these books, and their delightful silhouette illustrations. There
was also one about Jane Addams, which many people have told me they read, since
I am a biographer of Addams.
books were part of the Childhood of Famous Americans series published by the Bobbs-Merrill
Company. Some authors wrote only one book, some wrote several, and some wrote many.
Most of the books were about famous men, but some were about women. Augusta Stevenson
wrote the one about Clara Barton, Clara Barton:
Girl Nurse. Helene Albee Monsell wrote Dolly
Madison: Quaker Girl. Flora Warren Seymour wrote Pocahontas: Brave Girl. Jean Brown Wagoner wrote the most, including
the one I read, Julia Ward Howe: Girl of Old
New York, and also ones I didn't read: Jane
Addams: Little Lame Girl (horrible title!), Louisa Alcott: Girl of Old Boston, and Martha Washington: Girl of Old Virginia.
I guess they would have called the Addams book "Girl of Old Chicago"
if only Addams had grown up there! And Wagoner wrote many more. I reread her Howe
book two years ago and fell in love with it (and Howe) all over again. Wagoner tells
the story beautifully, with utter respect for a girl's dreams and ambitions, and
a gentle understanding of the obstacles that traditional expectations can pose.
We all remember these books for a reason.
bought my copy of the Howe book from ABE Books, the used-books website. Perhaps
now that you know the authors' names, you'll have some luck there or elsewhere.
libraries, sadly, have removed these books from their shelves because they have
supposed them "out of date." (Those rejected library books are the ones
for sale on ABE books.) In fact, they are childhood classics every bit as influential
on girls' dreams as Little Women or the
Nancy Drew series. The rights to publish several of those written by Wagoner (I
have the list somewhere) have been bought by another publisher, and these are still
in print, but the copyrights of most of them have not been renewed. My hope is that
some day we fans of those "little orange books" about remarkable women can organize
and bring them back into print! Wouldn't that be a fine thing?
Louise W. Knight
Knight's new biography, Jane Addams: Spirit in Action, will be published by W. W. Norton on September 6,
the 150th anniversary of Addams's birth.
just read your January newsletter and noticed a query from Miriam Beyer regarding
a series of juvenile biographies of well-known Americans.
this bit of research gave me an opportunity to procrastinate for a few minutes,
I thought I'd send on the results (though you may have already received several
is probably referring to the Childhood of Famous Americans series published by the
Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis. Bobbs-Merrill created the series following
successful sales of former schoolteacher Augusta Stevenson's biography of Lincoln
(1932). Though initially devoted to famous men, the Boyhood of Famous Americans
series was rebranded under the title Childhood of Famous Americans when a book on
Louisa May Alcott appeared in 1943.
This website provides numerous cover illustrations, and this one provides a list of the books and their authors.
an interesting article by the author of several of these volumes: Howard H. Peckham, "Historical Writing for Children," The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series,
Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jul., 1952), pp. 401-410.
makes some enlightening points about the rather peculiarly "inventive"
approach taken in these texts, noting that "the Bobbs-Merrill series is not
biography; it is an introduction to biography and history by the use of stories
about the childhood of the character subject. The distinction is lost on some librarians,
who catalogue the books under biography."
I share Miriam Beyer's nostalgia for and obsession with those little silhouetted
biographies, but the ones I remember reading were bound in orange, not blue. Dolly
Madison was my favorite, and I checked it out again and again. I too have scoured
bookstores in search of these titles. Booksellers tell me they remember them and
occasionally even see them. But I've never been lucky enough to find one.
Leslie Stainton, author of Lorca: A Dream of Life
Ann Arbor, Michigan
wanted to compliment you on the Biographer's Craft. I wait for it with more anticipation
than I did my copy of Seventeen magazine
when I was a teen. I finally feel like I belong to a group, thanks to you.
have a quick question: I am partway through a biography and have not yet sought
a publisher. I am concerned that some of the people I interview will have forgotten
they spoke to me or be deceased before I get permission to use their interviews.
Is there some boilerplate permission form available?
Editor's note: TBC
sent Ms. Jacobs a sample of such a form, but we thought other readers might like
to share their experiences in obtaining permissions for interviews and the techniques
they used. So write 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
Apropos of the front cover of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, James Breig, a reader of this blog, writes with a query:
Impertinent question: Is the cover photo reversed
(Armstrong's pocket handkerchief is on the right side of his jacket)?
If so, was it done deliberately by the photographer or book designer,
My jaw dropped when I read this e-mail, and I immediately set to
investigating. It turns out that the photograph in question, taken by
Philippe Halsman in 1965, was in fact reproduced in reverse--both on
the cover of Pops and on the Web site of Magnum Photos, which is where the book's designer found it. [Read more]
--Terry Teachout, About Last Night blog
Tips Corner: You'll Want This Catalog
I'll confess this is a love story masquerading as a research tip. Recently
TBC received two catalogs from ReadInk, in Los Angeles, a purveyor of fine books
from the past, whose name is a play on words that rhyme with "Dead Ink." The catalogs
were produced by Howard Prouty, who owns the online bookselling operation now in
its 12th year of selling "books for the obsessive or the merely curious."
one who loves books should fail to visit this website. The selection of books is
unmatched. The catalog entries make for great reading in and of themselves, even
if you don't succumb to buying the books. All the covers are beautifully and lovingly
he is a bookseller, but he has also created a wonderful research resource and, who
knows, you may even find a copy of that one book you need to own.
The introduction to this book, one of thousands at ReadInk, is by Jean Shepherd, who advises
the reader: "Do not expect to be welcomed to New York. It will simply envelop
you and will shed no tears when you leave."
Annual Conference on Biography
The End of Biography: Purpose, Promise, Prospects
Keynote Speaker: Arnold Rampersad
The Leon Levy Center for Biography is pleased to announce that its annual Conference on Biography will feature acclaimed author and MacArthur Fellow, Arnold Rampersad, author of books on Ralph Ellison, Jackie Robinson, and a two-volume biography of Langston Hughes. Other participants will include James Atlas, Gary Giddins,
Molly Haskell, Richard Howard, D.T. Max, Jed Perl, Andrew Sarris, Amanda Vaill and more.
Friday, March 19th, 10.30 AM - 6.30 PM Elebash Recital Hall
Graduate Center at the CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue,
New York, NY
the Editor's Desk
Many more readers would be mourning the passage of a literary great recently
had the world not changed while Louis Auchincloss (whose obituary is below) was
penning his novels. The subject of his books--upper-class men and women worried
about estates and manners--seemed to many people trivial during decades that brought
us holocausts, continuous wars, apartheid, and apocalyptic visions of ecological
destruction. But the veneer of social politeness in his novels belies a tremendous
try to pay tribute to the passing of writers by buying and reading one of their
books and spending one last time with them. I would suggest picking up any of his
novels, sadly to be found primarily in used bookstores, and a copy of A Writer's Capital, his memoir and reflection
on writing. You'll be rewarded by the experience.
When I walk with my strolling companion, Mauri, here in the foothills
of the Sangre de Cristo, I often talk about the many friends I have made through
TBC and working with BIO. Then one day I realized I had never actually met some
of these folks but that our relationship had grown entirely through cyberspace.
So, I said, perhaps the term "acquaintance" would be better suited to describing
them. No, Mauri corrected me, the term should be "ecquaintance," displaying his
little Internet research reveals he is not unique in coming up with this wonderful
term. One of the popular Web-based dictionaries of urban slang defines e-cquaintance
as "someone you know through email or online
chat, but would not recognize face-to-face. Upon
meeting his e-cquaintance in person, Joe was surprised to see she had no legs...
to all my ecquaintances out there, I'm glad to have made your acquaintance.
Speaking of sending emails, I recently received a missive from the marketing
director at Austin's best independent bookstore, BookPeople, that included a wonderful
feature. At the bottom of each letter that Alison Kothe Nihlean writes, there is
a line listing what books she is reading. When she wrote me, the line then said,
"Currently reading: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and The Passage, by Justin Cronin."
Isn't this a terrific idea?
James McGrath Morris
Currently reading: Farewell,
My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler, and The
Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale.
You can catch up with the author this month at the following events
Feb. 9, 7 PM
Santa Fe, NM
Feb. 14, 5 PM
Politics & Prose
Feb. 16, noon
Library of Congress
Feb. 16, 6 PM
Feb. 17, 7 PM
R.J. Julia Booksellers
Feb. 24, 7 PM
New York, NY
Order your copy at IndieBound
or order a signed copy here.
Sold to Publishers
The following are among the biographies recently sold to publishers, as reported by Publishers Marketplace and other sources.
Atlantic Fever: Lindbergh, His Competitors, and Five Deadly Weeks in the Race
to Conquer the Atlantic, to Farrar, Straus
Jerry Oppenheimer, biography of the late Casey Johnson, to St. Martin's
Bloch, Many Happy Returns: The Story of Henry Bloch, America's Tax Man, to Wiley
Donald Walsch, The Mother of Invention: The Legacy of Barbara Marx Hubbard, to
Halperin, untitled biography of a yet to be identified celebrity, to William Morrow
and Steve Springer's biography of heavyweight champion, "Irish" Jerry
Quarry, to Lyons Press
Jagger: A Biography, to Gotham
"Tad" Hershorn, Let Freedom Swing (Norman Granz) to the University of
Segaloff, untitled biography of
Arthur Penn to the University of Press of Kentucky
The following are biographies in stores this month. In cooperation with Publishers Weekly, many titles are accompanied by a link to the PW review.
Willie Mays: The
Life, the Legend by James S. Hirsch. (Scribner)
Princess Noire: The
Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone by Nadine Cohodas
Citizens of London:
The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by
Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power by James McGrath Morris
Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War by Michael Kranish
(Oxford University Press)
The Immortal Life
of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Millard Fillmore by Robert J. Scarry
Henry Clay Frick: The Life of the Perfect Capitalist by
Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr. (McFarland)
Pie Traynor: A Baseball Biography by James Forr and David
Sliding Billy Hamilton: The Life and Times of Baseball's
First Great Leadoff Hitter by Roy Kerr
To Hell on a Fast
Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old
West by Mark
Gerhard Richter: A
Life in Painting by Dietmar Elger, trans. from the
German by Elizabeth M. Solaro
Susan Boyle: Dreams Can come True by Alice Montgomery
Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan
Richardson by Rus Bradburd
NEW IN PAPER
The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of
Frances Perkins, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance by Kirstin
Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll
and the Woman Who Created Her by Robin Gerber
Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas by Benson
(Simon & Schuster)
The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the
Making of the American Army by Paul Douglas Lockhart
Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution by
Gerald M. Carbon
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan (Harper)
James McGrath Morris,
P.O. Box 864
Tesuque, NM 87574
James McGrath Morris
by Michael Mudd
by Clay Blackmore