Jean Strouse Selected as First Recipient of BIO Award
Strouse, biographer and director of the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for
Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, is the recipient of the
first BIO Award, to be given each year by members of Biographers International Organization (BIO) to a colleague who has made a major contribution to the
advancement of the art and craft of real-life depiction.
receive the honor during the 2010 Compleat Biographer Conference, on May 15 at
the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she will deliver the keynote
address. The conference will bring together biographers from the United States
and other countries for a daylong series of workshops focused on the practical aspects of biography, with panel discussions of topics
ranging from how to work with subject families to new media and how it affects
astonishing, masterful, and inspiring work on Alice James and J. Pierpont
Morgan has made her a biographer's biographer," said Debby Applegate, the
Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer who is serving as BIO's interim president. "As
the first recipient of this award, she is setting a high standard for
A native of
California, Strouse has been a book critic, a prolific contributor to periodicals,
and the recipient of major fellowships, including ones from the MacArthur and
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial foundations. Her Alice James: A Biography won the Bancroft Prize in 1980, and her
second life study, Morgan: American
Financier, won acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the man and its lucid
explanation of his financial work.
Founded in 2009,
BIO is the first-ever nonprofit organization set up to represent those engaged
in the practical business of biography--the most popular area of nonfiction
publishing and broadcasting today. BIO has a distinguished leadership of
practicing biographers, many of them internationally renowned. The Compleat
Biographer will be BIO's first national conference.
Biographers Win Lincoln Prize and National Humanities Medals
Biographer Michael Burlingame will receive the $50,000
Lincoln Prize for his two-volume, 2,024-page biography Abraham Lincoln: A Life
(Johns Hopkins University Press). The
prize, sponsored by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of
American History, will be awarded on April 27 at the Union League in New York.
Burlingame and his book were featured in the December 2008 issue of TBC.
biographers to have won this prize include Doris Kearns Goodwin, James
McPherson, and Allen Guelzo.
Three eminent biographers were among the eight Americans who
received the 2009 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama on
February 25. According to the White House, medals were given to:
- "Robert A. Caro
for capturing the subtle machinations of political influence in America. His
biographies of Robert Moses and President Lyndon Baines Johnson have shown us
how individuals accumulate and exercise power in local and national settings";
- "Annette Gordon-Reed
for her important and innovative research on Thomas Jefferson's slaves and the
life of Sally Hemings, and for bringing light to a previously unrecognized
chapter in the American story"; and
"David Levering Lewis
for his insightful examination of W. E. B. DuBois, the Dreyfus Affair, and
early Islamic-Christian relations in Europe, which have enriched our
understanding of the figures and forces that shaped world history."
addition to the White House honors, Caro will receive the 2010 Cosmos Club
Award at the Washington club's annual reception, on March 15.
Levy Center Second Annual Conference Set for This Month; Two Other Conferences Announce Plans
"The End of Biography:
Purpose, Promise, Prospects," the second annual conference of the Leon
Levy Center for Biography, will take place on Friday, March 19, from 10:30 a.m.
to 6:30 p.m., in the Elebash Recital Hall of the CUNY Graduate Center, at 365
Fifth Avenue, New York.
Rampersad, author of acclaimed biographies of Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson,
and Ralph Ellison, will give the keynote address. Other participants include
Gary Giddins, author of Jazz
critic Molly Haskell, author of Frankly,
; Langdon Hammer, author Hart
Crane and Allen Tate
; Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Howard; New Yorker writer D. T. Max; art critic Jed
Perl, author of Antoine's Alphabet:
Watteau and His World
; film critic Andrew Sarris, author of The American Cinema
; composer Eric
Salzman, author of The New Music Theater
Yale University press editor Ileene Smith; and Amanda Vaill, author of Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins
event is free of charge and open to the public. For more information consult the Levy Center website
or send an
Lives in Print
The 18th Annual
North American Society for the Study of Romanticism Conference will hold a
special session titled "Lives in Print" at its Vancouver, Canada, meeting, from
August 18 to 22.
"This special session invites speakers to scrutinize the relationship between
literary biography (broadly defined) and print culture," according to the
announcement. "How were biographies and biographical essays and reviews
mediated in the periodical press, anthologies, dictionaries, and the book trade
Information about the conference can be found here
The practical uses
and consequences of biographical research will be the focus of a
conference put on by the research network Biographical Perspectives on European
Societies, of the European Sociological Association (ESA), and the research section Biographieforschung,
of the German Sociological Association (GSA). The meeting will take place from
September 18 to 20 in Nuremberg, Germany. The conference is inviting would-be
attendees from different countries and different disciplines of the social
sciences to submit abstracts until April 30. For more information contact Thea Bolt
of Gerhard Riemann
BIO Makes Plans for First Elections
The interim board of Biographers International Organization is making preparations for the election of permanent officers and board members.
The elections will be held immediately following ratification of the bylaws during the business portion of the Compleat Biographer Conference in Boston on May 15.
If you have an interest in running for an officer's position or for a seat on the board, please contact BIO's secretary.
Building Readers for Your Biography Through Articles
By Stephen H. Grant
Writing articles while working on a biography can pay
dividends. You can dive deeply into a research topic, test the interest in your
subject, and increase your visibility on the path to a larger prize. Far from a
distraction, an article can stretch your thinking in unforeseen ways and lead
to unexpected advantages.
main subject of my current biography project is a cultivated Standard Oil
Company executive who used the proceeds of his stock dividends to acquire
Shakespeare folios and quartos at London auctions. I did not initially consider
submitting a short piece on Henry Folger to a golfing magazine. However, you go
where the story leads you.
signed his telegrams "Golfer" in bidding instructions to his commission agent
at Sotheby's. Winner of senior golfing events using a croquet-style putter, he received invitations to play with his boss, John D. Rockefeller, on
Mondays at ten. The president of Standard Oil was known for carrying around a
pocketful of shiny dimes and handing them out to unknown children and adults.
The public-relations gesture took place with friends as well. When Folger sank
a 16-foot putt, John D. presented him with a few dimes.
could also be devastating: as the pair were leaving the green one day, he
cautioned the owner of dozens of first folios, "We wouldn't want to think that
the president of one of our major companies would be the kind of man foolish enough
to pay $100,000 for a book"! After hearing an earful of these stories, my
literary agent said, "I see a golfing article here." So I wrote one.
piece--published by the Golf Collectors
Society--resonated with readers and provided welcome publicity for the
forthcoming biography. Exposure to esoteric membership organizations, openness
to writing for online as well as print media, and willingness to address
unlikely or less major aspects of your subject all help to sow seeds that may
lead to your reaping a greater harvest when your book is released.
Stephen H. Grant is at work on Ardor and
Fulfillment: The Folger Shakespeare Story. His previous book, Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster,
Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal, was published in 2006.
Is Writing a Biography Good for a Marriage?
Celia Lee, a member of the International Churchill Society,
and John Lee, a former executive officer of the British Commission for Military
History, are the authors of military history books and
articles on the life of Lady Jean Hamilton; Winston and Jack Churchill; General
Sir Ian Hamilton; and Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Palgrave Macmillan just
published their newest book, The
Churchills: A Family Portrait, in the United States and United Kingdom.
interviewed the couple, who, appropriately enough, answered in a single voice.
Writing alone is hard. What are
your tricks to working together and coming up with one voice?
write our own chapters. Having spent five years researching the Churchill
papers, I, Celia, wrote about 90 percent of the book. John wrote the chapters on
the Churchills' military careers, as John is the better military historian of
the two of us. I cannot say there is any trick to coming up with one voice;
perhaps it works for us because we have had a similar education and use similar
vocabularies. However, different vocabularies are appropriate for different
types of chapters.
Did gender enter your work? For instance, was
one of you pushing for more and better treatment of the men or women in your
really isn't the space for differences in gender in properly researched
history. It is the facts and the situations and what they tell us which have to
be accurately and very finely perceived and interpreted. The sharp differences
in gender in the Victorian and Edwardian eras are only all too well apparent in
this book. For instance, women didn't have the vote, and to supposedly protect
their modesty they walked about in dresses so long that they were trailing in
Not to sound like People
magazine, but does this professional partnership help or interfere with your
John and I are about
to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, on 18 August 2010. A marriage that
has lasted that long will withstand anything. Systems have been worked out long
ago for dealing with problems or conflicts. Whilst being deadly serious about
our subject of history, we are a pair of hard-working individuals who worked
all our lives in the buzz of commercial London. We are therefore also very laid
back. We are not argumentative or competitive types. There exists within our
marriage and therefore within our writing a mutual respect each for the other's
Letters to the Editor
We received this letter in response to a
query in the letters column of the February issue:
I have never asked an interview subject to sign a permission form. I
never thought I needed to do so. As with reporters doing on-the-record
interviews, the very act of the interview constitutes permission. I would never
use such a form. It intimidates the interviewees. If publishers are beginning
to ask for such forms, we need to push back and say no. You can quote me.
Bird's most recent
book, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of
Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, will be released by Scribner
on April 27, 2010. He is the co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of the Pulitzer
Prize-winning biography American
Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. For more information, visit his website.
am in Venice on a fellowship until mid-March and would like to make contact
with any writers, particularly biographers. Does anyone have contacts to
suggest? Heck, I'll buy the coffee or the Prosecco.
Write to Nancy
Kriplen is the
author of The Eccentric Billionaire:
John D. MacArthur--Empire Builder, Reluctant Philanthropist, Relentless
Adversary and Dwight Davis: The Man and the Cup. For more information, visit her website.
Amanuensis: A person
whose employment is to write what another dictates, or to copy what another has
written. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
every writer's dream. Rob Morrison, a professor of English at Queen's
University, was working on a biography of Thomas De Quincey, the famous
"opium eater" of the 19th century, friend of Wordsworth, Coleridge
and the other members of the Romantic cabal, when he discovered a cache of
hitherto unknown letters.
were from his three daughters, to a priest who lived with them for a
time," says Morrison. "It was a picture of daily life in the De
Quincey household never seen before."
The timing of that discovery is also every
writer's worst nightmare: Morrison came across the letters a week after he
mailed his manuscript to his British publisher.
great, I thought. I finally finish my life's work and already it's
--Merilyn Simonds, Kingston Whig Standard
Contrary to the feminist wisdom tweeted
on bumper stickers, well-behaved women do indeed make history. Consider Rosa
Parks, universally perceived as the civil rights movement's instigator. And
Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring
is commonly credited with igniting the environmental movement. In their
respective movements Parks and Carson are as famous for being well-behaved, as
for the history it is said they made.
why you might not recognize the name Claudette Colvin, a Montgomery, Alabama
teen-ager who in 1955 was the first black person to be hauled off to jail for
sitting in a front seat on a bus. Civil rights activists strategically staged
the same incident nine months later with "calm" Parks in the seat and the
spotlight, because she seemed a more sympathetic representative of their cause
than "mouthy" and spontaneous Colvin.
may not have heard of Rosalie Barrow Edge either, the New York fierce society
lady who sparked environmental activism more than 30 years before the 1962
publication of Carson's Silent Spring. [Read more]
--Dyana Z. Furmansky, Audubon Magazine
Tips Corner: Get Yourself Organized
Jean Strouse, who will be honored by BIO this May, tackled a
daunting research project in writing a biography of J. Pierpont Morgan. In an
excellent interview with Bookreporter.com, she explained how she went about
organizing her work:
Organization is an extremely interesting problem in an
enormous research project. I knew I couldn't tell at the outset what kind of
system I would need, so I simply gathered material for a year or two without
trying to impose much order on it. Once I saw more or less what the map was
going to look like, I began to file things chronologically and also under
subject headings. I have a big lateral file drawer for letters and diaries--there
are two separate sets of chronological files, one for Morgan, a file per year
from his birth to his death, and one for everybody else (also a file per year).
In addition, I have other file drawers and loose-leaf notebooks organized by
topic--there are sixteen notebooks, plus one called "Chronology," which just
lists what happened every year. There are six binders for Morgan's business
affairs, five for his art collecting, and five for his life. Each of those has
dividers with subheadings (family, schooling, houses, illnesses, friends,
travels, etc.), like a high school notebook.
Since I started this book in 1983,
I wasn't yet completely comfortable with the computer, and so I used this
old-fashioned method, which was very cumbersome but had some important advantages.
I could file Xeroxes of documents--letters, diaries, things written by hand, by
Morgan or others. There is something extremely important about reading original
documents again and again--getting to know the person's handwriting, seeing the
mistakes, the crossed out passages, the misdating of letters.
You learn a lot
by this kind of direct access to the person who wrote the document a hundred
years ago--and if it had all been typed into my laptop, I'd have my version of
what was said, not his. Still, if I were doing it all over again now, I'm sure
I would take most of my notes on a computer, and I did begin to do that as I
went through this project. For those sections, however, I've had to go back and
check against the original documents several times, because it's so easy to
make mistakes when you're transcribing.
Also, after several years I had so much
material that I wasn't able to find it readily, and decided I needed an index.
It took about six months to create. I read through every letter and diary entry
in the chronological files, and entered them into subject files (on my
computer), so that if there were fourteen letters referring to Morgan's first
wife in 1860, and if three of those referred to her interest in art, I could
look up those subjects in the index and find them quickly.
It helped a lot--and
having to reread the documents in order to create the index helped me
assimilate that overwhelming mass of material. The evidence has to inhabit you,
in a way, and you have to inhabit it, in order for a vital story to take shape
in your imagination. You can't make a character come alive, and it doesn't
always happen, but there are certain moments in this strange, long process in
which something mysterious and intangible does suddenly come to seem vivid and
Richard Holmes has written wonderfully about this experience in his book,
Footsteps. He calls writing biography "an act of deliberate psychological trespass, an invasion or encroachment of
the present upon the past, and in some sense the past upon the present." There
has to be "a continuous living dialogue between [biographer and subject] as
they move over the same historical ground, the same trail of events. There is
between them a ceaseless discussion, a reviewing and questioning of motives and
actions and consequences, a steady if subliminal exchange of attitudes,
judgments and conclusions. It is fictional, imaginary, because of course the
subject cannot really, literally, talk back; but the biographer must come to
act and think of his subject as if he can."
To read the entire interview, go to bookreporter.com.
If you want to be a biographer, make plans to be in Boston this May 15th for the Compleat Biographer Conference
will bring together biographers from the United States and other countries for
a daylong series of workshops and panel discussion on the practical aspects of the craft and art of biography, with topics ranging from Dealing with the Family to New Ways to Publish
in the Age of the Internet.
To learn more or to register,
visit BIO's website.
This issue marks the beginning of the fourth year of TBC.
Each month our subscription list keeps growing, and we continue to receive
comments like this one, from a biographer in Italy, who wrote, TBC "has become
a lifeline of sorts for many of us who work in relative isolation, an important
resource on many levels."
TBC has also helped spark the creation of BIO, a nonprofit
organization to represent and serve the interests of those engaged in the
practical business of biography.
in all, not bad for three years of work. But some changes are on the way.
some point this summer, ownership of TBC will be transferred to BIO, and the
newsletter will become its official publication. Under the proposed plan, the
publication would remain editorially independent, but the BIO board would
appoint the editor. Once the publication becomes part of BIO, members will
receive it as a membership benefit. Others would have to pay for a subscription.
you may have noted, each anniversary issue has featured a biographer of the
year. As part of our transition, we are now instead using the issue to announce
the annual recipient of the BIO Award.
This year's recipient was selected by the interim BIO board from a list of biographers nominated by an awards committee.
At the conclusion of a talk I gave recently at the Library
of Congress, John Cole, director of the Center for the Book, presented me with a
copy of Biography & Books, a slim
volume that Cole edited using presentations given at a 1983 symposium. The book
is something every biographer should own. It contains remarks by Daniel J.
Boorstin, Samuel S. Vaughan, Edmund Morris, James Thomas Flexner, David
McCullough, and others on why biography is popular, whether it is an art form,
how a biographer chooses a subject, and other topics we are still wrestling
with three decades later.
have purchased three copies of this out-of-print collector's item from used
book dealers and will send them to the first three subscribers who write
offering to make a tax-deductible donation of $50 to Biographers International
Heck, if public broadcasting can have premiums for its donors, so
can we! Send your pledge to us.
The Woman Who Saved the
Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, by Clare Mulley, which was selected
for the 2007 London Biographers' Club Prize (since renamed the Tony Lothian Biographers' Club Prize, after the late
biographer), will be published in the United States this fall by the American
arm of Oneworld. All the royalties from this book go to the Save the Children
Fund, created by the book's subject. Prime Minister Gordon Brown called
Mulley's biography "a truly brilliant book."
Amanuensis this month features an excerpt from one blog
posting by Dyana Z. Furmansky, a prolific writer on the environment, travel,
and culture of the American West. I urge you to explore her other postings. To
whet your appetite, here are the opening sentences of one that first caught my
attention: "When I became a serious biographer I encountered the litigious specter
of the late J. D. Salinger. The author's spirit got touchy way before he died;
since 1988 it has hovered around all those who dare to write books about the
lives of others." To read more about Furmansky and
her work, go to this Audubon website.
James McGrath Morris
Currently reading: Hellhounds on his Trail, by Hampton Sides (coming out in April), and Let the Great World Spin, by Column McCann.
"No doubt I will not be the only one to remark upon the timing of this excellent book: a thorough, possibly definitive biography of the man who shaped the modern newspaper more than anyone else. . . There have been other biographies of Pulitzer . . . but James McGrath Morris's is the best. It is lucid and fair to its complicated subject." Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
You can catch up with the author this month at the following events
March 14, 2:30 p.m.
March 15, 7:30 p.m.
March 17, noon
Capitol Hill Historical Society
Virginia Festival of the Book
March 22, noon
Missouri School of Journalism
March 22, 4 p.m.
Book & Toy
Jefferson City, MO
March 23, 7 p.m.
Left Bank Books
St. Louis, MO
March 24, 7 p.m.
Missouri History Museum
St. Louis, MO
March 25, 6 p.m.
Denver Press Club
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.
Steve Taravella, Mary
Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before, to University Press of
Mississippi, as part of its Hollywood Legends series
James Christie, You're
the Director, You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner, to Bearmanor Media
Mark Lamster, Philip Johnson: Architect of the Modern
Century, moving to Little, Brown
Garelick, Antigone in Vogue, to Random House
Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis: A Biography, to Tyndale
Jonathan Steinberg, Otto Von Bismark: The Man Who Made
Modern Germany, to Oxford University
Matt Birkbeck, The Quiet Don: The Untold Story of Russell
Bufalino, the Mob's Most Fearsome Kingpin, to Steerforth
Joe Woodward, Lonely Heart: The Life of Nathanael West, to OR Books
Marc Leepson, Lafayette, to Palgrave
The following are biographies in stores this month. In cooperation with Publishers Weekly, many titles are accompanied by a link to the PW review.
Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and
by Marion Meade
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Three Emperors:
Three Cousins, Three Empires, and the Road to World War I
by Miranda Carter
Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero
by Abigail Green
Conspirator: Lenin in Exile
by Helen Rappaport
Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World
Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen
by Jimmy McDonough
Twain: Man in White, The Grand Adventure of His Final Years
by Michael Shelden
Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years
by Laura Trombley
the K: The Remarkable Life of Harry Kalas
Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero
by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary
Know Where I'm Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography
by Charlotte Chandler
(Simon & Schuster)
NEW IN PAPER
Cheever: A Life
by Blake Bailey
King of the Movies: Francis X. Bushman
by Lon and
Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
by Brad Gooch
(Back Bay Books)
Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde
by Jeff Guinn
(Simon & Shuster)
Flying High: Remembering Barry Goldwater
by William F. Buckley Jr.
Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire
by Flora Fraser
James McGrath Morris,
P.O. Box 864
Tesuque, NM 87574