Stiles Wins Pulitzer Prize for Vanderbilt
T.J. Stiles's The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbiltby T.J Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.
Also nominated as finalists in this category were: Cheever: A Lifeby Blake Bailey (Alfred A. Knopf), and Woodrow Wilson: A Biographyby John Milton Cooper, Jr. (Alfred A. Knopf).
Clock Ticking Down on Registering for Compleat Biographer Conference
Final preparations are underway for Biographers International Organization
's first-ever Complete Biographer Conference, expected
to bring together working biographers from several countries in Boston next
month. Registration is keeping up with projections, and some sessions at the
conference may become sold out in coming weeks.
its name from Izaak Walton's famous 17th century book on fishing, the Compleat
Biographer Conference will focus on the practical aspects of the craft and art
of biography. The daylong conference will feature speeches by prominent
biographers such as Pulitzer Prize-winner and BIO interim president Debby
Applegate and the recipient of the BIO Award Jean Strouse, as well as workshops,
panel discussions, and networking opportunities.
faces huge questions in our era of transition to post-print life--not to speak
of the cultural and artistic threats and opportunities in this third
millennium," said Nigel Hamilton, BIO's interim vice president and author of
the forthcoming American Caesars: Lives
of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush
biographer who wants to get published or be taken seriously by his or her audience
should try to be there--or be square!"
Anthony Shepard, chair of the BIO Host Committee, has been busy attending to
the logistics of the conference. Shepard and his committee have been making
final inspections of the conference facilities, working to obtain additional hotel
rooms, and preparing to publish the program.
conference will bring together a mix of seasoned, accomplished, and
prize-winning biographers with writers beginning their first works, as well as
editors, agents, foundation officers, publicists, archivists, and librarians. "I'm
a newbie at this biography business," noted Robin Rausch, of the Library of
Congress. "I'm coming to the BIO conference to bask in the glow of 'The Published,' learn from their
experience, and find an agent for my biography of Marian MacDowell."
to Boston," adds Shepard, "the hub of life stories, on May 15, to support your
art and profession."
Bancroft and Cohen Prizes Awarded; New Stowe Prize Launched
Two biographies garnered Bancroft history prizes this year. Linda
Gordon's Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond
and Woody Holton's Abigail
. A third book, Margaret Jacobs's White
Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of
Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940
, was also
given a Bancroft.
Bancroft prizes are awarded annually by Columbia University for books in
American history, including biography, and diplomacy. Cohen Prize
The second volume of a biography of Canadian Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau by John English won the 2009-2010 Shaughnessy
Cohen Prize for excellence in political writing. English, a history professor
and former member of the Canadian Parliament,
received the $25,000 prize for Just
Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968-2000. Stowe Prize
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford (right next door to the Mark Twain
House) is launching a new book prize. Recognition and $10,000 will be given to
a U.S. author whose work makes "a tangible impact on a social justice issue
critical to contemporary society."
inaugural Prize will be awarded in 2011 and honors the 200th anniversary
of Stowe's birth. Her 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin changed how
Americans thought about slavery, galvanizing the antislavery movement and
widening the divisions that led to the Civil War. Translated into 60
languages, Uncle Tom's Cabin remains an international classic, read
for its powerful portrayal of the struggle for freedom.
is in this tradition that the winner of the Stowe Prize will be chosen,
according to a spokesperson. The prize will be awarded biennially. The
winner will be announced in March 2011 and the prize awarded in June.
Submissions for the prize must be postmarked by June 1, 2010. For complete
information, visit the Stowe Center website
Paris, Spring, and Picasso: Elements of a Children's Book Featuring "Fictional Biography"
An illustrated book for children published this past month
offers an imaginative look at a day in the life of Pablo Picasso and the people
surrounding him. Written by Joan Yolleck and illustrated by Majorie Priceman, Paris in the Spring with Picasso (Random
House) follows Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Max Jacob, Apollinaire, and friends on
a typical Saturday before one of Gertrude Stein's famous soirees. "The evening
soiree that the narrative takes as its focus isn't as important as the ordinary
ways these extraordinary artists spend their days," noted Publishers Weeklyin a starred review.
talked with Yolleck to learn about her work, particularly what she calls "fictional
in this book could have or did happen," Yolleck said. "For example, the
conversation between Gertrude and Alice was taken from words they used with
each other in conversation.
every biographer does, I read everything available on the characters and
subject. I spent several years doing research in the library and using
interlibrary loan to find out about Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Alice B.
Toklas, Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Fernande Olivier, Marie Laurencin, and others
during the early part of the 20th century. As the research fanned out, I
followed it in its many directions and learned about movements, contemporary
artists, and scholars' current work on the material. As well, I visited
museums, watched films, and searched the Internet."
TBC:You focused on the day and the ordinariness
of the way your famous cast of characters spent it. Why?
they are doing is ordinary only in that many of us spend our time painting or
writing, visiting friends and family, sleeping and dreaming. In some ways, this
is the biographer's craft, to show them as accessible people. This famous cast
of characters is extraordinary because of their creativity and the way society
embraced them. It's the creative energy that you see in the book that makes
them (or anyone who is creative) extraordinary.
TBC:What was your goal in writing this book?
was to introduce children to a broader range of historical figures. The
beginning of the 20th century was a remarkable period that is constantly
studied by adults. It seemed natural to show children this world for their
enjoyment, and perhaps, as a basis for further exploration, now or when they
TBC: What's next?
working on a fictional biography for children about an African American who
made a large contribution to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Publisher Finds Market for Biographies Relating to Olden Days of Cinema, Radio and Television
Readers in search of biographies relating to classic cinema
or the old days of radio and television are becoming increasingly acquainted
with a Georgia publisher with an unusual name. BearManor Media, less than a decade
old, has already built a large catalog of biographies (both print and audio) on
figures such as John Holmes, Agnes Moorehead, Guy Williams, and Verna Felton,
to name just a few.
Ohmart started the company while working as a writer. "I learned how hard it
was to tap into the mainstream market with what is essentially nostalgia fodder,"
he said. So he published his book The Great Gildersleeve by himself and
learned he enjoyed the publishing side more than the writing side.
always had a big interest in radio, coming from Abbott &Costello, Fibber
McGee & Molly, Duffy's Tavern,
and all the comedies. When I learned online that Charles Stumpf had written a
book on Fibber, I got his address and
wrote to him for a copy. The book was great, and there started a long
friendship (he died last year), during which time Charles showed me the
delights of nonfiction writing."
pursued his new passion through research and churning out books on voice
actors, his favorite subject. "I wrote books Walter Tetley, Paul Frees, Daws
Butler, the Bickersons, and Mel Blanc," he said. But he doubted if publishers
would be interested.
had the experience of rejection before, I didn't want to wait another year before
placing these [other works], when books of this sort did not show up on Borders
bookshelves anyway, so I started self-publishing," he said. "And in the process,
I found that I preferred the tedious work of publishing to writing."
as a publisher, Ohmart is most interested in obtaining biographies related to
entertainment. "My main love is voice actors and radio, but my problem is that
I like too many kinds of things. I'll watch a Buster Keaton movie and a Saw horror film with equal pleasure; I
enjoy Snoopy cartoons and BBC Radio 4 alike. That's why my catalog is so wide.
Of course I have a large soft spot for the unheralded supporting players of
film. There aren't enough books on these hardworking, forgotten people. Who's at
the top of my list? Allen Jenkins, Tim Curry, Sterling Holloway. That's
not my whole list either. Books on these people would be wonderful.
"It seems like few companies are in
a rush to take a chance on a Verna Felton or a Benny Bell or a Vernon Dent or a
book on the Riverboat TV series. But
these are valuable areas of history that should not be overlooked. And the
longer you wait, the more witnesses are lost, diminishing the history you can
capture. So if you have a passion to write that book on Herbert Marshall, Eric Blore,
Frank Morgan, go for it! You'll always have a home with us."
Reflections on a Book Tour
By James McGrath
Have you ever wondered why rental-car companies give you two
keys on a ring welded closed so that you can't separate the two? What's the
point of having two keys? These are the kinds of profound questions that crossed
my mind recently as I crisscrossed the country in search of folks who might buy
my new book.
many TBC readers engage in this timeworn practice known as the book tour, I
thought I might share a few observations, aside from my rumination about
rental-car keys. My experience is quite unlike that of famous authors such as
Rebecca Skloot, author of the bestselling The
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,who reports, "I've read to thousands of
people in classrooms, churches, community centers, cafeterias, bars, chapels,
and many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many independent bookstores."
fate of us midlist authors is far different. We get thrilled when six people--unless
you count the two who wandered in by accident and eagerly sought the exit--show
up for a reading in a bookstore. (Truth be told, there were also events that
included healthy sized crowds.)
why should a midlist author do these kinds of events? Aren't they better suited
to the Skloots of this world? No, quite the opposite. While Skloot might boost
her sales with her appearances, her book would do fine without a tour. It is
the lesser-known authors whose sales may be tipped critically upwards by these
if the crowds are small, aren't these events a waste of time? No, one cannot
judge the success of a bookstore reading by the size of the crowd for a number
of reasons. First, the bookstore will give your book more prominence before
your arrival. That is valuable publicity. Second, sales for your book will
increase before and after your event.
Third and most important, the bookstore event may simply be an excuse for
obtaining valuable media exposure.
more than one occasion, I have done a bookstore event with, say, a dozen folks.
But I obtained an hour on the city's most prominent radio talk show, reaching
thousands of readers, by using the news hook of the event. In other words, the
radio time was generated by the event itself.
new media can extend these sparsely attended events to new and larger
audiences. For instance, I gave a talk in New York and in Washington to nice-size
crowds. But what made the events even better was that videotaped versions were
posted on You Tube. This can work no matter the size of your event. I did an
interview-style event at a venue in a large Western city attended by a handful
of folks. It was filmed and aired locally.
another occasion, I worked with the Strand Bookstore in New York to cook up an
event that attracted CSPAN. Instead of my doing a book talk, we invited Michael
Wolff, the biographer of Rupert Murdoch, to come and do a conversation about
our respective media lords. The
resulting show aired twice on Book TV and introduced my new book about Pulitzer
to thousands of potential readers.
my point is don't judge your reach by a head count of those hardy souls who
make it to your events. The small crowd may be only the tip of an iceberg of
month, another imponderable: who is that woman whose voice we hear in airports
throughout the United States?
British Biographer and Novelist Mervyn Jones
Mervyn Jones, a prolific novelist and occasional biographer,
died February 22 in Brighton, England, at age 87. His three biographies were
the life stories of Megan Lloyd George, George Meredith, and Michael Foot, the latter his best known work
outside his fiction.
met Foot in 1955 while working as a reporter. He grew to become one of his
closest friends. Three decades later, when Jones learned that Foot was not
planning on writing his memoirs, he asked permission to write a biography. Foot
granted him complete access to his papers. "Jones's fascinating and
effortlessly readable 700-page study was an affectionate account of a generous
and affectionate man," reported the Telegraph.
Amanuensis: A person
whose employment is to write what another dictates, or to copy what another has
written. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
An author's first reaction to the news that the president of
the United States is reading one of his books is, naturally enough, admiration
for the man's superb taste in prose. Then come qualms. What if he gets bored
and badmouths it on Jay Leno? What if
he is seen using the paperback edition to swat horseflies at Camp David? [more]
--Edmund Morris, Daily Beast
In May 1992 a postcard changed my life. Three
months earlier, on hearing that Muriel Spark was to review the second volume of
my biography of Evelyn Waugh, I had expected a mauling. I knew that she was a
friend of Auberon Waugh. I knew he disliked the book. Nevertheless, and much to
my surprise, she had praised it, so I wrote to thank her. Shortly afterwards, a
postcard arrived depicting a detail of mosaics from the vault of the presbytery
of the Chiesa di S. Vitale in Ravenna: two doves, or pigeons, side by side amid
leaves and fruit. Turning this mysterious image over, I found an equally
mysterious handwritten message from 'Muriel Sp.' saying that she hoped she would
have as good a biographer as me when her turn came round. [more]
--Martin Stannard, OUP Blog
Tips Corner: Footnote Free This Month; Fire Up Google Alerts
Use Footnote for Free
Footnote, a leading digital archive company, is expanding
its trial offer of free access to its U.S. census materials. "A few weeks ago,"
they write, "we granted all visitors to Footnote free access to the Interactive
Census Collection. Due to the positive response we received, we have decided to
keep this collection open to the public
through the month of April."
Follow this linkto gain access to the material.
Google Alerts: No
Author Should Be Without Them
Never assume that everyone knows about a good thing. One
such good thing is Google Alerts. By setting up a Google Alert(very easy to
do), you will receive emails when the item you identify is mentioned on the
web, in a publication, a blog, or even a video. Many authors use it to keep
track of their publicity efforts, but it can be used for research purposes as
well. But be careful to narrow your search query. If you are researching the
life of a well-known person, the number of hits will overwhelm you and,
probably, none of it will be new. But if you compose your queries carefully, a
Google Alert may provide a useful tip.
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.
Philip Turner is back in action. This fall Philip Turner
Books will bring out its first title in conjunction with Rowan &
Littlefield Publishing Group, The Deeds
of My Fathers: Generoso Pope, Sr., Power Broker of New York, and Gene Pope,
Jr., Publisher of the National Enquirer, by David Paul Pope.
who began his working life on the retail side of books as the owner of a chain
of independent bookstores, has been a noted editor in several book publishing
companies, most recently Carroll & Graf, which closed in 2007. "In my career I have directed several thematically driven
imprints of narrative nonfiction--purpose-driven imprints. I am devoted to
editing and publishing books that chronicle miscarriages of justice, social
issues, the wrongfully accused, errors of historical understanding, unique
achievements, and revelatory discoveries," Turner said.
"In 2009 I began representing these
projects as a book producer to publishers and in addition have developed publishing
capability under the Philip Turner Books imprint."
is a man biographers ought to know.
If you are need of help selling your book at non-bookstore
events in New York, check out Mobile Libris, a clever and nimble company that
specializing in selling books at events. They have even sold my book at an event in a cemetery. Think of it as a bookstore on wheels.
Please remember to give us advance warning if you are doing
something that might interest biographers. Over the past year we have often
learned of events too late to include them in TBC before they occurred. The most recent case in point, mentioned here
so that at the least it will get some press, was a March conference at the
American College of Greece entitled "The Craft of Biography: Writing Greek
Lives." The daylong meeting included presentations on Plutarch and ancient
Greek biography and writing the biography of George Seferis, among other
erroneously reported in February that Jerry Oppenheimer's next book was going
to be a biography of Casey Johnson. We were incorrect. Oppenheimer, who has
written biographies of the Hilton and Kennedy families, is writing a book on
the entire Johnson & Johnson dynasty for St. Martin's Press. We regret the
James McGrath Morris
Currently reading: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, and This Book is Overdue!, by Marilyn Johnson.
"This well-researched, exhaustive biography reads
like a novel. . . Morris paints a vivid picture, portraying his
subject as an ambitious, hotheaded, at times violent, often charitable
man; a perfectionist, shrewd in matters of business yet cold in matters
of the heart."
--The New York Times
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.
Downey, Isabella: a biography of Isabella, Queen of Spain, to Nan Talese
Lucas, Axis Sally(World War II radio personality and convicted traitor), to
Woods, untitled biography of William E. Colby, to Basic
Fox, Augustine, to Basic
Turner, And the Band Played On: The Musicians Aboard the RMS Titanic, to
Unger, Beaumarchais: The Unlikely History of the Inventor, Spy, Playwright and
Rogue Who Saved the American Revolution, to the University Press of New England
Mordden, Love Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, to St. Martin's
Whitmire, The Bee Eater(DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee), to Jossey-Bass
Graysmith, Black Fire: The True Biography
of the Original Tom Sawyer, to Broadway
Druett, Tupaia (Captain Cook's Polynesian navigator), to Praeger
A Very Irregular Head,(an
authorized biography of Syd Barrett, the founder of Pink Floyd) to Da Capo
Scharff, The Women Jefferson Loved, to Harper
Callahan, Poker Face: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga,to Hyperion
Brotherton, Shifty Powers: The Band of Brothers Quiet Warrior, to Caliber
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 Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, by Alan
Forty Minutes of Hell:
The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson, by Rus Bradburd
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of
Barack Obama, by
Julius Finn: A Chess Master's Life in America, 1871-1931, by
Olimpiu G. Urcan
Kentuckian in Blue: A Biography of Major General Lovell
Harrison Rousseau,by Dan Lee
Rick Ferrell, Knuckleball Catcher: A Hall of Famer's Life
Behind the Plate and in the Front Office, by Kerrie Ferrell with William M.
America: Fred Harvey Civilizing the West-One Meal at a Time, by
Lighting Out for
the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Became Mark Twain,by Roy Morris
Jr. (Simon & Schuster)
Biography, by Duane W. Roller
(Oxford University Press)
Mark Twain: The
Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens, by Jerome Loving
Jerry West: The
Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon, by Roland Lazenby.
NEW IN PAPER
How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in
William J. Mann
Trotsky: A Biography, by Robert Service
Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne, by James Gavin
Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage, by Edith Belle
'Blinker' Hall: Spymaster: The Man Who Brought America into
World War I, by David Ramsay
James McGrath Morris,
P.O. Box 864
Tesuque, NM 87574