Martin Amis Biography Put on Hold after Objections from Subject
Peter Owen, a prestigious and influential independent
publisher in London, has canceled publication of Richard Bradford's biography
of Martin Amis after receiving a stern letter from Amis's agent, Andrew Wylie.
is a British novelist whose books Money and London Fields made him one of
Britain's best-known writers and earned him a designation by the Times of London as one of the 50
greatest post-war writers.
book, called Martin Amis: The Authorized
Biography, seemed to have angered Amis on two counts. First, he disputes whether he
actually authorized the book. Amis agreed to five face-to-face interviews, in
return for editorial say over the contents of the entire book, but he claims
such cooperation does not make the book "authorized."
and more to the point, Amis was not happy with what he read in the first half
of the manuscript. He told Bradford he did not like what he had written about
his "nearest and dearest" and said Bradford had contacted sources Amis had
deemed off limits, such as his mother, brother, and ex wife.
of trouble brewing between the biographer and the novelist first surfaced last
April. Amis was said to have been fuming over a review of his latest novel.
Written by Bradford, the review included information from his interviews with
Amis suggesting the book was a thinly veiled autobiographical slice of life. Bradford
identified the characters. "How
do I know?" he wrote in the review. "I'll be honest; Martin told me. But for
anyone even remotely apprised of his life, the parallels between fact and
fiction are glaring and abundant."
Neither Bradford nor Leslie Gardner, his agent, were willing to say much about the affair. Gardner disputed the facts reported in the Sunday Times of London but did not offer to correct any at press time. He did say, "We are in the midst of negotiating now with a new
For his part, the only comment Bradford was willing to offer was, "I am presently discussing the final draft with Martin Amis."
Amis biography would have been Bradford's fourth literary biography with Peter
Owen. His previous biographies were of Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, and an
authorized biography of Alan Sillitoe.
John Updike Papers Raise Biographical Questions
A year and half following his death from lung cancer,
novelist John Updike is back in the news, biographically speaking. Renewed
interest in the large collection of his papers that Harvard University acquired
for an estimated $3 million was sparked by a pair of articles in the New York Times
by Sam Tanenhaus.
who died on January 27, 2009, was a renowned author of novels and short stories
and a frequent literary critic. Two of the novels in his Rabbit series, whose
main character was Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, received Pulitzer Prizes.
began giving his papers to the Houghton Library at Harvard in the 1960s. After
1970, when tax laws changed, Updike ceased donating his papers and merely
deposited them with the library. With rare exceptions, the new batches of papers
were off limits to researchers. Finally, after the author's death, Harvard
purchased the collection from Updike's estate and began cataloging its
acquisition. Writers won't be able to use the new material until 2012.
obtained rare access. "I was recently allowed an advance look, conducted over
three days in Houghton's reading room, long enough to sample a range of the
holdings (among them typescripts of early short stories rejected by the Atlantic
) and to confirm that they hold the keys to Updike's
literary universe," he wrote.
by what he saw--and, of course, generating pleasing publicity for Harvard, who
spent the three million--Tanenhaus published two long articles
, sat for an interview
with Charles McGrath, and created an interactive online display
one can see Updike at work on manuscript revisions.
Updike collection certainly merits attention. "Updike's archive may be the last
great paper trail," Adam Begley, who is at work on a biography of Updike for
HarperCollins, told Tanenhaus. "Anyone interested in how a great writer works
will find here as full an explanation as we're likely to get."
the same time it has sparked an interesting debate about the nature of a writer's
papers and what they can and cannot tell us about the author's world. Ruth
Franklin, a senior editor at the New
, suggests that Updike's papers may actually reveal not how he
wrote his books but how mysterious the process is. "You might as well gather together
Picasso's paint jars, canvas, and easel and try to reconstruct Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, or imagine a
ballet by looking at the music, costumes, shoes," Franklin wrote in the
more, the archive offers an illusion of completeness not entirely different
from the way the novel itself offers an illusion of reality," she continued. "All
those boxes, their contents neatly filed and numbered and alphabetized, in all
their exquisite order! But anyone who has spent time poking through a writer's
archive--and I have been doing a bit of this myself lately--will realize that the
apparent intactness masks what is not
there. The letters that got torn up, the drafts that were burned--if you're
lucky, there are hints of these in other documents, so that you can agonize in
frustration over what was lost. But for all the diary entries and recipes and
Christmas cards that your subject saved, there might have been an equal number
that he or she threw away. And perhaps rightly so. Even the most dogged
researcher, poring over page after page of publisher's correspondence ('Enclosed
please find your royalty statement for the period January through June 1951 ...')
and similar monotony, will remember why this stuff is called ephemera."
is unconvinced. "The act of creation may be mysterious, but writing comes in
layers, and in the days before the word processor, those layers remained
visible," he told TBC. "After the flash of inspiration comes the hard work of shaping
and polishing, and that's what's revealed in a good archive. Updike sometimes
wrote so-so stories, tried to improve them, and failed. And sometimes he wrote
good stories and later made them great. That process can be excavated through
successive drafts, and I'd be tempted to argue that when you've understood that
process, you've penetrated the mystery--you've seen prose transformed into art."
Begley said, he has found a wealth useful material in the earlier manuscripts
that are open for inspection at the library. "Those have been available to me,
and I've consulted them extensively, thanks to the very helpful librarians," he
said. "It's wonderful stuff--drafts of his great early stories ('Flight,'
'Pigeon Feathers,' 'A&P,' etc., covered with drawings and notations);
drafts and annotated proofs of Rabbit
; unpublished stories and poems; Updike's program for Ted Williams's
last game, with doodles and notes he took for 'Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu'--an
incredibly rich resource that has been hugely helpful and that gives a
tantalizing preview of what's in the balance of the archive."
Begley will have to wait patiently another two years before he can see the
remainder of the material. "The
plan at the moment is for me to write the biography using the materials
currently available, finishing with any luck just about when the archive opens
up in 2012. Then I'll consult the new material and go back and revise
Fall Lineup Includes Biographies of Cleopatra, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Lawrence of Arabia, Malcolm X, and Many More
Publishers gathered in New York at the end of May to display
their new books at the annual BookExpo America. Here is a brief sneak peek at
some of the major titles coming this fall.
biography building the most attention in the early days of summer is Cleopatra: A Life
, by Stacy Schiff, due out from Little, Brown in November. A few
weeks ago, publisher Michael Pietsch confirmed that the actress Angelina Jolie
wants to play Cleopatra in the film version under development by producer Scott
Rudin. When asked who might play Marc Anthony, Schiff told reporters, it would
be a "no-brainer" to suggest Jolie's romantic partner Brad Pitt.
list of the other most anticipated biographies would have to include:
- Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, by Hazel
Rowley, Nov. (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)
Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow, Oct. (Penguin Press)
Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris, Nov. (Random House)
Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, by Michael
Korda, Nov. (Harper)
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning
Marable, Nov. (Viking)
These biographies, among others, are also scheduled to be in stores this fall:
Michelle Obama, by Alma Halbert Bond, Sept., (ABC-CLIO/Greenwood)
Steve McQueen: Living on the Edge, by Michael Munn, Sept.
Norman Podhoretz, by Thomas L. Jeffers, Sept. (Cambridge
Nelson Mandela: A Force for Freedom, by Christina Scott, Nov. (Carlton Books)
- Mandela, by Peter Hain, Sept.
Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography, by Burton Hersh, Sept. (Counterpoint)
- Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: The Georgia Years, 1924-1974, by
E. Stanly Godbold Jr., Oct. (Oxford University Press)
Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation,
by Harlow Giles Unger, Nov. (Da Capo Press)
Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father, by Nicholas
Dungan, Sep. (NYU Press)
The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's
Childhood, by Jane Leavy, Sept.
- The Man Who Built the National
Football League: Joe F. Carr,
by Chris Willis, Sept. (Scarecrow Press)
The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum, by
Geoffrey Wolff, Oct. (Knopf)
- Frank: The Voice, by James Kaplan, Nov. (Doubleday)
John Ono Lennon: The Life and the Music, by Tim Riley, Dec.
(W. W. Norton)
Judging Edward Teller: A Closer Look at One of the Most Influential
Scientists of the Twentieth Century, by Istvan Hargittai, Oct. (Prometheus
Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy, by
Mark Christensen, Oct. (Shaffner Press)
Brother Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the
Beat Generation, by Ann Charters and Samuel Charters, Nov. (University
Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt, by Robert Gottlieb,
Sept. (Yale University Press)
Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film, by Ruth
Barton, Sept. (University Press of Kentucky)
Young Michelangelo: The Path to the Sistine, by John T.
Spike, Sept. (Vendome Press)
George Washington's America: A Biography Through His Maps, by Barnet Schecter, Nov. (Walker & Co.)
Biographers Rush to Join BIO; Podcasts and Videos to Go Online This Month; Website Offers New Services
Biographers, at the rate of several per day, are joining
Biographers International Organization (BIO), since its board of directors
determined membership requirements and set annual fees. Information about
membership is available on the organization's website
president Nigel Hamilton, working with the University of Massachusetts Boston,
reported to the board that videos and podcasts from the Compleat Biographer Conference would soon be available on the Internet. In addition, a special
seven-minute overview of the conference is currently being produced. The videos
and podcasts were made possible with financial support from the University of
Massachusetts Boston and the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy
Studies. When the videos and podcasts become available, links to them will be
posted on the BIO website.
website is expanding. It will soon offer a members-only area and other
enhancements. One of these is a new author listing service for members of BIO.
As part of an Active Membership, biographers may choose to have a full web page free-of-charge. A sample of the page's format may be seen here
addition, the members-only web pages will offer ways for biographers to link up
and create regional groups, such as those that already exists in New York,
Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.
Mayborn Conference Offers Fare of Interest to Biographers
The sixth annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, to
be held from July 23 through July 25 in Grapevine, Texas, will offer a number
of panel discussions of interest to biographers. Although primarily focused on
journalism and narrative nonfiction, many of the topics are similar to those of
example, Kristen Hinman, a staff writer for the St. Louis Riverfront Times, will discuss the tricks reporters use
in writing profiles; Jack Shafer, Slate's
editor at large, will explore literary journalism from the turn of the century
to today; Steve Weinberg, biographer, prolific reviewer, and member of BIO's
board, will be among a group of writers talking about the changing world of
book reviews; and David Grann, author of The
Lost City of Z, and Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail, will discuss their tools for writing historical
narrative. TBC's editor will moderate this last session.
Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas
sponsors the conference. For more information about the conference, consult the
Arvon Book of Life Writing
This is one in an
occasional series of TBC book reviews of books about the art and craft of
The Arvon Book of Life
Writing: Writing Biography, Autobiography and Memoir
By Sally Cline and Carole Angier
271 pages, Methuen, £14.99 (US edition coming in August,
Reviewed by Steve
When the esteemed editor of the Biographer's Craft asked me to review The Arvon Book of Life Writing, I said yes right away. But I
refrained from asking a question: What or who is "Arvon." I felt perhaps I
should know, and though I usually ask questions even when admitting ignorance
might cause embarrassment, I guess I did not want James McGrath Morris to think
It turns out the Arvon Foundation is a
British-based charity that promotes "the transforming power of writing." The
foundation has offered courses over a 40-year span. This is the first book from
the foundation, however. Carole Angier and Sally Cline are both biographers in
England who agreed to piece together the book, which follows a format planned
for future books (on short story writing, creative nonfiction, and maybe other
Part One in the format provides a primer about
the development of biography, of autobiography, and of memoir. Angier
(biographer of Jean Rhys and Primo Levi) and Cline (Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian
Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, among others) cover the historical development of
each genre, discuss leading controversies, and entertain while offering large
dollops of didactic text. Ethics, objectivity, truth, evidence, myth--these and
other words explained briefly in the context of biography provide lots to
consider and debate. The most experienced biographers alive can never state
definitive rules, so the Angier and Cline passages offer grist for more than
Here, for example, is Cline, discussing her
"acts of empathy," one of her three motivating forces (the others are "more
than a life" and "rescuing lives").
"When I first encountered Carlyle's suggestion
that writing about a life should be an act of sympathy, that idea established
itself in my work as a rock. My subjects and I leant on it; tested our
relationship against its hard surface; knew it would not withstand external
knocks. But there were problems, rock or not. Often I did not approve of my
subjects' actions or behavior. I was unable to feel sympathy for them. I no
longer shared their sorrows nor cherished their joys."
I think many life writers will concede that
paragraph from Cline is the basis for a very interesting conversation.
Part Two of the book offers "tips and tales"
from 32 guest contributors. Alphabetically, they range from Diana Athill to
Edmund White. Philosophically, they range from ... gosh, I don't know how to
construct a valid range of that sort. Some of my personal favorites include
Alain de Botton, Geoff Dyer, Hermione Lee, and Meryle Secrest.
Part Three of the book consists of writing
exercises: how to research, how to write, that sort of stuff. Goodness, I
dislike exercises of that sort. They really make a person think, and I can
barely muster enough brain cells for my next book. But for those readers
smarter than I, who recognize the value of such exercises well enough to
actually complete them, they look quite on point.
Steve Weinberg, a biographer but not a
memoirist/autobiographer, serves on BIO's board of directors.
Ann Waldron, Biographer of Southern Writers
Ann Waldron, a biographer of Southern United States writers,
died at her home in Princeton, New Jersey, on July 2. She was 85.
Among her best-known works are Hodding Carter: The Reconstruction of a
and Eudora Welty: A Writer's
. The latter was the first, though unauthorized, biography of the famed
short-story author and novelist. When Waldron reached 78, she turned to writing
murder mysteries, most of which followed the exploits of a newspaperwoman who
solved killings at Princeton.
Amanuensis: A person
whose employment is to write what another dictates, or to copy what another has
written. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
"I have rifled the poor man's underwear drawer. Such is the invasive
snooping endemic to the role of the biographer. Along with the BVDs and the
boxer shorts, I've combed his tax records, gone through his lineage with the
precision of an OCD-addled genealogist, and I've clocked, oh, about 500 hours
of audio recordings of our intimate, far-ranging and often wildly tangential
conversations." [Read more]
Weller, Time-Out Chicago
BIO is now a reality!
Sign up and become a member today
* Subscription to The Biographer's Craft (it won't be free
To learn more about membership in BIO or to download an
* Discount on the Compleat Biographer Conference
* Assistance in creating a local BIO group
* Access to members-only webcasts and phone seminars
It's odd how stories percolate and, sometimes, similar types
rise to the top at the same time. Looking at this month's TBC one might think
we are solely interested in writers writing about writers. Well, as you know,
that's not true. We like any kind of news about biography. So join in and help
us out. Send us tips, story ideas, and act as our eyes and ears. After all, TBC
is now becoming BIO's official publication, and that means it belongs to you.
Speaking of the transition, remember that
starting in September the full and complete edition of TBC will become a
subscription publication available only to BIO members. With memberships for as
little as $30, TBC alone should be a compelling reason to join. But if you
consult the website, you will see there are many other benefits to membership
Recently BIO membership proved very useful to
one US writer who wanted to enter the London-based Biographers' Club 2010 Tony
Lothian Prize competition. To make it easier to pay the entry free, without
getting involved in trans-Atlantic currency deals, BIO was able to accept
payment from the BIO member and remit it to London.
Well, I've been called worse. But a recent article I wrote
gave me the new moniker of "whining Luddite." My article "Will eBooks Make Midlist Authors Extinct?" appeared in
the Huffington Post and triggered
both nice compliments and a healthy number of rants that I was some old foggy
who hated modern technology. You can make up your own mind about my
sensibilities by checking out the piece yourself.
We now know what David
Livingstone was trying to say. A crack team of
scientists and academics has deciphered the contents of an illegible letter
written by the 19th-century explorer. Officials at Birkbeck
College announced that imaging scientists had made it possible to finally read
the 130-year-old letter, written when Livingstone was stranded in the African
village of Bambarre, in present-day Congo. Low on paper and ink, he wrote on
pages torn from books using an ink concocted from the seeds of local berries. In
the letter, to his future biographer Horace Waller, Livingston despaired of
ever making it home alive.
Walking where one's subject once stood remains for me an
important part of the quest to understand the person whose life one is
chronicling. Last month I had a wonderful opportunity to do just that. It began
with a ride on a small Coast Guard cutter, aptly named the Liberty IV, which ferries employees out to Ellis Island from a pier in the shadow the massive Staten Island Ferry terminal
in lower Manhattan.
wanted to visit Ellis Island to see the crumbling remains of a building in
which Emma Goldman, the subject of my next biography, was imprisoned in 1919 on
the eve of her deportation from the United States. When I debarked, a National
Park Ranger, Barry Moreno, who has written two books on Ellis Island, greeted
me. Donning hard hats and accompanied by an archeologist, we headed off to the
Baggage and Dormitory Building, where Goldman was kept for two weeks.
was like something out of a horror movie. (Renovation of the building was scheduled to start the next day.) We climbed a staircase with missing
tread, which the staff nicknamed "the Bela Lugosi stairs" for its sinister
character. On the second floor we scampered over a pile of wooden beams and
entered the hall containing the cells where Goldman was locked up with two other
women radicals. Doors were hanging by a hinge; rusted metal bed frames
supported thin mattresses rolled up; sinks were full of plaster that had fallen
from the ceiling; and only if one shuffled one's feet to move the accumulated
dirt, dust, and plaster did one see the terracotta tiles of the floor.
later, long after Goldman had left, the same rooms were used to hold Nazis and
Fascists, and we found graffiti from these residents praising Hitler and the
great Mussolini. We toured other parts of the building, including a huge chamber
with a large bathing and toilet area where the 246 men who were being deported
that night were probably kept.
didn't get in touch with Goldman's spirit, but I know when I write the scene
having actually been there will make a major difference. Could I write it
without the visit? Sure. But what biographer would turn down a chance to walk
the path of one's subject?
James McGrath Morris
Currently reading: Wolf: The Lives of Jack London, by James L. Haley
Sold to Publishers
The following are among the biographies recently sold to publishers, as reported by Publishers Marketplace and other sources.
Deirdre David, A Woman at War: The Story of Olivia
to Oxford University Press
Franko, Martha Graham: The War Years and Beyond, to Oxford University Press
Joan Barthel, Secret Soul: How Elizabeth Seton Shaped a New
World for American Women, to
Thomas Dunne Books
The following are biographies in stores this month.
Radical: A Portrait of Saul
by Nicholas Von Hoffman
Admiral "Bull" Halsey: The Life and Wars of the Navy's Most
by John Wukovits
High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg
Richard Wright: From Black Boy to World Citizen
(Ivan R. Dee)
Fortune's Fool: Edgar Bronfman Jr., Warner Music, and an
Industry in Crisis
by Fred Goodman
(Simon & Schuster)
Hollywood Hellraisers: The Wild Lives and Fast Times of
Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty, and Jack Nicholson
The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life
Erich von Manstein: Hitler's Master Strategist by Benoît Lemay
trans. from the French by Pierce Heyward
Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century
by Ruth Harris
Gilded Lily: Lily Safra, The Making of One of the World's
by Isabel Vincent
Sonia Sotomayor: The True American Dream
by Antonia Felix
Errol Flynn: The True Adventures of a Real-Life Rogue
Alekhine: Agony of a Chess Genius by Pablo Morán
Willie K. Vanderbilt II: A Biography by Steven H. Gittelman
NEW IN PAPER
Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother, The Official Biography
James McGrath Morris,
Biographers International Organization
P.O. Box 33020
Santa Fe, NM 87594