The Washington Biography Group and other life writing organizations
Washington Biography Group Facebook page
Sam Hurd's photos from WBG's 30th anniversary celebration at the National Press Club (December 10, 2016). Click on a photo thumbnail to view the whole image. You will see a menu of options when you mouse over the photo you're viewing-here you can download the original high res image, see the image data, or choose to view the image in various other sizes. Read
Happy 30th, Washington Biography Group by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre.
Books Alive, an annual conference about books organized by David O. Stewart and the crew of the Washington Independent Review of Books, usually has a panel or two about biography and memoir. This year's conference will be April 28-29, 201, at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in Hyattsville, MD). For more info: www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/page/washington-writers-conference-2017
Biographers International will return to Boston for its 2017 Compleat Biographer conference (May 19-21, 2017). Check out BIO's conference archives.
Photos of WBG's 2013 party at Hillwood Estate and Museum, guests of Hillwood and Estella Chung (celebrating publication of Living Artfully: At Home with Marjorie Merriweather Post) as well as an "informal" semi-farewell salute to Marc Pachter, as he makes New York City his base. (He'll return for many meetings.)
Meetings of the Washington Biography Group
Meeting regularly since 1986
The meetings of the Washington (DC) Biography Group take place one Monday evening a month, September through May, at the Washington International School, 3100 Macomb St., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (between 34th St. and Connecticut Ave). We don't meet during the summer. We have "socials" in June and early December. Click on Events for current details.
This is an informal gathering of people who write memoirs or biography, attended by professional and academic writers as well as people writing personal or family memoirs (and a few who are working up the courage to do so). After an initial “go-around,” catching up on where we are in our projects, our guru Marc Pachter or someone else leads a discussion on a topic, and on nights when Marc is host the best part of the discussion is the great insights he offers into the art and the craft. It may not be worth making a special trip to DC for, but if you're going to be here anyway, it is worth scheduling your visit around one of these meetings, if you have a special interest in life story writing.
The Washington (D.C. Area) Biography Group is open to all who are seriously interested in reading, writing, or researching biographies. The group was inspired by Marc Pachter, then chief historian of the National Portrait Gallery, who organized an all-day symposium on "Biography: Life As Art" at The Smithsonian Institution's Baird Auditorium. Held December 6, 1986, the symposium was attended by 325 people. Three biographers talked about their work: David McCullough (author of Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt; Phyllis Rose (author of Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages); and Marc Pachter (who did a video interview of Edmond Morris about his book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt).
Marc Pachter, Judy Nelson, and others wondered if members of the audience would like to continue meeting, so Marc announced at the end of the day that those interested in meeting to discuss biography writing should send him a postcard and he would schedule a meeting. In February 1987, about 30 people attended the first meeting, at Chick and Judy Nelson's home. The group continued to meet once a month, first in people's homes, then in independent schools (first Maret, and then and now at the wonderful Washington International School). Now we meet most often in the main building, in the Goodman Room (formerly the Terrace Room). Marc Pachter — who taught biography for Smith College (here in Washington) and edited Telling Lives: The Biographer's Art — guides the discussions, on topics chosen by the group, and provides invaluable insights into what makes biographies work. (Among topics discussed: the relationship between fiction and biography; problems we wrestle with in our work; family biographers; privacy and the biographer; biography in historical context; the treatment of childhood in biography; what makes a title good; what to leave out of a biography; how to find the central story of the life; the ways of literary agents; how to handle things we don't like about our subjects; front and back matter: finding the essence of the biography; who the heck are YOU to be writing this biography (can a man write about a woman, can an American write about a Brit, can a nonscientist write about a physicist — what entitles you to be writing this life story — one of our best discussions), what new resources are available in the digital age and how reliable are they? At potluck socials held twice a year, in December and in June, where we schmooze and get to know each other, some members read brief selections from their work.
In a discussion of editing, one member spoke of "research rapture," apropos the stuff you are so proud you found that you want to put it in even if it doesn't fit. And Marc Pachter reminded us that as biographers our obligation is not principally to inform but rather to fascinate our readers ("If you are fascinated with the subject, your obligation is to make me fascinated.") He emphasized the importance of finding and crystallizing the essential message of the life we are presenting. (The essential message of the National Museum of the American Indian is "We're still here.") Narrative is principally about change, which doesn't have to take the form of action--it could be quest, transformation, internal drama. Jean Strouse in her biography of Alice James uses traditional structure to show Alice trapped in a prison of Jamesness. (Everyone agrees, more than half the pleasure of these meetings is Marc's comments.)
Links immediately below are to sites of members of the WBG. Scroll or jump to the bottom of page for directions to WBG meetings.
Links to websites and books of WBG members
Websites of some people and books associated with the Washington Biography Group (some members live outside of the DC area but plan visits so they can attend meetings)
Do not look for logic in the alphabetical order. Browse, as if in a casual old bookstore.
See also Washington Biography Group Facebook page
• His blog: Viral History.
• His custom publishing firm: Viral History Press. His books:
• Trotsky in New York, 1917: Portrait of a Radical on the Eve of Revolution
• Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York
• Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties
• The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Black Friday, 1869
• Dark Horse : The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield. Notice the comments on Garfield in this Rating the Presidents entry on the Viral History blog. His publishing firm: Viral History Press has brought out a number of books, including Horse Radish: Jewish Roots by Rachel Farber (compiled and edited by Sandra Berliner). His biographies are now available both in print and on Kindle etc. at great prices!
Ken also teaches a great workshop on narrative nonfiction at the Writer's Center in Bethesda.
Biographer's International Conference
Brian Jay Jones, postconference report on the first meeting of Biographers International
Dr. Fostina Baker is writing about an incident described in this story, the lynching of her great uncle, Frazier B. Baker, and his young daughter: Lake City remembers postmaster's lynching with historical marker (Donna Tracy, Lake City News & Post, 10-9-13).
Richard A. Baker, historian emeritus of the Senate
• Co-author with the late journalist Neil MacNeil of The American Senate: An Insider's History. (The Amazon description alone is fascinating.) See also Brian Lamb's Q&A about the book on C-Span, another interesting interview on PBS Newshour and this interview (on YouTube). Dick and his wife Pat, a clinical social worker, are currently working on a book on the bittersweet relations between John Quincy Webster and Daniel Webster.
• A A Bastian, website for her book-in-progress.
• Mormon Is Not American
• From Siamese Prison to Mormon Memory (Juvenile Instructor).
Audrey is a writer and interpreter, who speaks American English, Mandarin, Arabic, and American Sign Language
Official website: MormonsLeftandRight.com
• Glorious Times: Adventures of the Craighead Naturalists Kirkus review: “What the Kennedys are to politics, the less-famous Craigheads are to nature—a prolific and accomplished clan.”
• John Craighead's obit tells his story as a conservationist who championed Yellowstone’s grizzlies, died at age 100.
• Grizzly Bear Wake Up - Craighead Brothers Trying to Tag Semi-Conscious Bear. (YouTube) Amazing video and captures essence of the brothers and the bear!
• Carlisle Indian School (Tom's blog)
• Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs (with Francis Bernie Kish)
• Oklahoma's Carlisle Indian School Immortals
• Keep A-Goin': The Life of Lone Star Dietz
YouTube reading about Pop Warner and the Carlisle Indian School Immortals
• Prostate Cancer and the Veteran by Tom Benjey
Sally Berk on (Harry) Wardman's Washington
Peter S. Bridges (oral history review, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, 10-24-03)
• Old Times on the Soviet Desk (American Diplomacy, Jan. 2016)
• Pen of Fire: John Moncure Daniel
• Donn Piatt: Gadfly of the Gilded Age
• Safirka: An American Envoy (to Somalia, 1984-86)
A'Lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker , the legendary African American entrepreneur and philanthropist—by her great-great-granddaughter.
• Questions and Answers (an interview with Burkhardt about her biography of William Maxwell)
• William Maxwell (the overdue story of the famous New Yorker editor's illustrious life and works: William Maxwell: A Literary Life
John Philip Colletta
• Only a Few Bones: A True Account of the Rolling Fork Tragedy & Its Aftermath
• They Came in Ships: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor's Arrival Record
• Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy (Great Courses audio series)
Anne Conover Carson
• Caresse Crosby: From Black Sun to Roccasinibalda
• Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound: "What Thou Lovest Well..."
David Challinor's obituary: Smithsonian Official David Challinor, 87
Julie E. Coryell, editor. A Chemist's Role in the Birth of Atomic Energy: Interviews with Charles DuBois Coryell (oral history by Joan Bainbridge Safford, paperback edition). Also available on Kindle. In 2012, the American Chemical Society Nuclear Division Centennial Symposium honored Glenn T. Seaborg and Charles D. Coryell (Julie's father) as co-founders of the field of radiochemistry. Here's Julie's website.
Lauren Goldstein Crowe and Sagra Maceira de Rosen, The Towering World of Jimmy Choo: A Glamorous Story of Power, Profits, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Shoe
Estella Chung, Living Artfully: At Home with Marjorie Merriweather Post . Great story about her in the WSJ: Marjorie Merriweather Post: The Woman Who Served Jell-O to the A-List (Charlotte Moss, Wall Street Journal, 7-26-13). And here are photos of our 2013 party at Hillwood Estate and Museum, guests of Hillwood and Estella Chung (celebrating publication of Estella's book and saying semi-farewell to Marc Pachter, as he moves to New York City. (He'll return for some meetings.)
Edith Boorstein Couturier. The Silver King: The Remarkable Life of the Count of Regla in Colonial Mexico
Patricia Daly-Lipe , author of Patriot Priest: The Story of Monsignor William A Hemmick, the Vatican's First American Canon
Sara Day, author of Coded Letters, Concealed Love: The Larger Lives of Harriet Freeman and Edward Everett Hale , Charismatic leaders have a way of flying too close to the fire. This is the chronicle of the secret romance between Hale and Freeman revealed for the first time through 3,000 of their love letters (1884-1909), written partly in code.
Stephanie Deutsch (whose father was a Rosenwald). You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South is a book with legs! On All Things Considered (NPR) , she talks about how Rosenwald and Washington's meeting led eventually to the construction of thousands of schools for black children in the segregated South. On CNN, she talks about the great affection that attached to the schools, which preservationists finally acted on. And she is constantly asked to come speak, maybe partly because her helpful website makes her easy to find. (Take note.)
Diane Diekman's website. Diane's biographies of Music in American Life: Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins and Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story
Kelly DiNardo, Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique
Kirsten Downey, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR'S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience
Jan Elvin.The Box from Braunau: In Search of My Father's War
Joseph A. "Joe" Esposito.
• When an extraordinary collection of talent gathered at the White House (Thomas Oliphant, Washington Post, 5-25-18) Great way to launch a book! 'The evening is best known for one of Kennedy’s better lines, commencing the after-dinner program: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” '
• Dinner in Camelot: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House
Dorothy Fall, Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar. See also Dorothy's website and a site for Bernard Fall and his works. At one WBG meeting, she said she thought she had known her husband well, but, writing about his early life, she realized belatedly that her assumption that he would not continue to put himself in danger after he was married with children had been unrealistic. "He loved danger, excitement and took risks," and that was never going to change.
Lesley Lee Frances. You Come Too: My Journey with Robert Frost
• As reviewed: "It is hard to imagine a better book about the poet and his most intimate heritage."~Ray Olson, Booklist Online
• And reviewed in Washington Beacon by Micah Mattix.
• Perry's father, pen name Pat Frank, is best known for his post-apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon, published in 1959
• D.C.’s walls tell stories (Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, 7-16-16) "If the District’s walls could talk, Perry Frank would be their longtime confidante. For nearly 20 years, she has been documenting the murals painted on buildings around the District, which tell stories of the city’s past and present in bold, brilliant paint strokes."
• DC Murals. From the Post story: "A cultural historian and longtime mural admirer, Frank in 1997 founded DC Murals, an organization dedicated to documenting the images many people walk by each day without noticing, and memorializing those that have been covered up or lost to the wrecking ball. Now, she is working on a coffee-table book of the city’s street art and the civic role it plays."
Jo Freeman: Activist, Scholar, Feminist, Writer (Ronnie Eldridge's interview with her on CUNY-TV, 10-4-17) This is fascinating and it is the FIRST time I really got a sense of how smart and informed she is.
• Jo Freeman's website about women in politics.
• Her articles for Senior Women Web,
---We Will Be Heard: Women's Struggles for Political Power in the United States
---At Berkeley in the Sixties: The Making of an Activist
---The Politics of Women's Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process
---A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics
---Women: A Feminist Perspective (fifth edition)
Robin Gerber's website and her books:
• Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her. Read New York Post story about the book here.
• Eleanor vs. Ike (a "thought-provoking novel of what could have been")
• Katharine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon
• Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way: Timeless Strategies from the First Lady of Courage
Daphne Palmer Geanacopoulos , author of The Pirate Next Door: The Untold Story of Eighteenth Century Pirates' Wives, Families and Communities
Martha Gil-Montero. Brazilian Bombshell, a biography of Carmen Miranda. Wrote PW: "Gil-Montero, a Spanish translator, here offers a sympathetic, minutely detailed biography of the incomparable Carmen Miranda (1909-1955)."
• Jann Haynes Gilmore.
Olive Rush: Finding Her Place in the Santa Fe Art Colony (winner of the Ralph Emerson Twitchell Award from the Historical Society of New Mexico)
• Almost Forgotten: Delaware Women Artists 1900-1950
• Greetings from Delaware and Other Artist Communities: The Jann Haynes Gilmore and B. Joyce Puckett Collection of Artist Greeting Cards
• Doors To History: The Doors of Fame at the Rehoboth Art League
• Painting Ever Since She Can remember: Works by Betty Harrington Macdonald
Marcia Goldstein, author of the funniest personal essays ever read at our semi-annual social occasions, is less prolific than her daughter, Lauren Goldstein Crowe, author of The Towering World of Jimmy Choo: A Glamorous Story of Power, Profits, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Shoe and Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion.
Stephen H. Grant, author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger, the dual biography of the couple who made the largest literary gift in American history to found the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. See glowing review by Michael Dirda (Wash Post 4-23-14)
• Steve blogs on two sites: Blogging Shakespeare and on Collecting Shakespeare (his publisher's site).
• Fireside chat about Folgers at the Homestead Resort, found through his blog post on same.
• A few trailers for his Shakespeare book.
Here are Ten cameos from the Folgers' world.
Watch and listen to Steve's talk about "Collecting Shakespeare (at Politics & Prose, captured by C-Span2, 7-25-14, broadcast 8-24-14)
His previous biography: Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal .
Dana Greene, Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life (University of Illinois Press, paperback in 2014). Check out Dana Greene on Poet Denise Levertov (her interview on PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, conducted in the National Portrait Gallery). Albert Gelpi called her biography of Levertov "an authoritative portrait of one of the central figures in American poetry of the last fifty years." Here's Dana's website.
Nancy Thorndike Greenspan, author of The End of the Certain World: The Life and Science of Max Born
• Q&A about The End of the Certain World. Next up: the Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs.
Mimi Clark Gronlund, author of a biography of her father, Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, A Life of Service. You can buy on University of Texas Press website at 33% discount or full price at Amazon (an approach new to me!). Foreword by Clark's son, Ramsey Clark. And here's an early story, Daughter of Former Justice Pens Biography of Father (by Brian Trompeter, Sun-Gazette).
Gilda Haber, author of Cockney Girl (read a sample chapter here). Marc Pachter wrote this about Cockney Girl: I have spent most of my professional life concerned with the writing of biography and auto-biography, in short. life telling. And so my review will be less about this book's extraordinary perspective on the Holocaust more broadly and specifically about the predicament and response of the Jewish community in Britain. Other reviews have addressed that achievement very effectively. What I want to comment on and celebrate, as a student of biography, is Haber's remarkable control of the narrative voice she uses in this painfully moving book. I would argue the most difficult task of all for a memoirist is reaching back in her memory and giving the reader the perspective she had then, early in her life, rather than the meaning she now imparts to it as an adult. Haber might have chosen to pronounce truths about that stage in her life as she now understands them. But instead she finds a way as a writer to put us back there with a little girl who has no idea what is happening to her, not only within the greater drama of Britain at war and London under attack, but even more intensely the mysteries of her own predicament as a child imperfectly loved, occasionally abandoned, and consistently refused warnings or explanations. So we wander and wonder with her, we never know why certain things were done, only that they were done. We can manage anything, even in a world at war, even as a child, if adults around us understand what we are emotionally owed, what we need to get through. There were some such adults in this child's life, but not enough, and not always. So read this book because of the history it conveys, but mostly read it to understand what it is to be a child."
• Review of Cockney Girl and photo of Gilda, in Washington Independent Review of Book.
• Goodreads entry: " Cockney Girl is a second-generation Jewish-British child’s eyewitness account of tumultuous East London and her eccentric family in England 1934-1950. The writer was then aged 5-20. This zeitgeist, before, during and after World War two, is based on memories and diaries and is, according to Elie Wiesel, ‘unmapped history.’ "
• For 'Women In Clothes,' It's Not What You Wear, It's Why You Wear It (Jacki Lyden, Morning Edition, NPR, 9-4-14). Gilda reads from her chapter ("Sumptuary Law, Laws permitting, forbidding or forcing clothing on women, lower ranks and minorities") in the book Women in Clothes, ed. Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton
• The Man in the Mink Hat (Persimmon Tree, from Diary of a Mad Hatter)
• The Orphanage
• Hats by Haber (her other life, to be covered in "The Mad Hatter"
Edward Everett Hale, about whom Sara Day, who is quoted here, is writing (Youtube video about Hale and the special culture at Hale House in Matunuc, Rhode Island)
Rachel Hartig's books
• Crossing the Divide: Representations of Deafness in Biography
• Struggling Under the Destructive Glance: Androgyny in the Novels of Guy de Maupassant
• Man and French Society: Changing Images and Relationships
Anne C. Heller, author of Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Pronounced "AIYne," rhymes with Dine. See Mike Wallace's interview for with Ayn Rand and learn more about Anne Heller.
May Asaki Ishimoto. Preserving Stories: The “Backstage Pioneer of American Ballet” (Smithsonian blog, 2-12-10). May finished her autobiography before she died. Has it found a publisher? (Mary, let us know, either way.)
Faith Reyher Jackson (deceased) led several interesting lives, parts of which are captured here , on her publisher's website. Her books include the novel Meadow Fugue and Descant and the biography Pioneer of Tropical Landscape Architecture: William Lyman Phillips in Florida . Here's Faith Jackson's obit in the Washington Post . At 93, she died Nov. 12, 2012.
Brian Jay Jones
• Jim Henson: The Biography
• Brian Jones on MSNBC's "The Cycle." "The brief clip you see of Kermit saying the ABCs with a little girl on Sesame Street is featured in the prologue of the biography."
• Will Friedwald's review of Jim Henson bio (WSJ, 10-11-13) "As Brian Jay Jones shows in this authorized biography of Muppets creator Jim Henson (1936-90), Kermit and Fozzie not only re-created the camaraderie of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (or even Bob Hope and Bing Crosby); they also called back to a stage tradition that is much older than the movies or television. Highly readable and never long-winded (even at nearly 600 pages), "Jim Henson" joyously documents its subject's knack for combining old-fashioned puppetry with the world's newest entertainment medium to forge a kind of furry, felt-covered vaudeville."
• On Diane Rehm show, about Jim Henson (host Susan Page, 9-25-13)
• Steven J. Westman and Brian Jay Jones (Morning Brew TV show, YouTube, 10-24-13)
• Washington Irving: An American Original
Marjorie G. Jones , author of Frances Yates and the Hermetic Tradition
Rochelle G.K. Kainer. The Collapse of the Self and Its Therapeutic Restoration Wearing another hat, she is writing something as "Alma Lehrer" (Grande Dame Lit)
• Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, the irrepressible woman who changed the way we view and live in cities, stopped a highway replacing crucial parts of Greenwich Village, an influenced urban planning greatly despite her lack of formal credentials in the field. Great press: 'Eyes On The Street' Details Jane Jacobs' Efforts To Put Cities First (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, 9-28-16); Jane Jacobs’s Street Smarts (Adam Gopnik, New Yorker, 9-26-16, light on credit to Rob) What the urbanist and writer got so right about cities—and what she got wrong; How migration to cities mars their future (Emily Badger, WaPo, 9-30-16) In “Eyes on the Street,” Robert Kanigel has written the definitive Jacobs biography illuminating how her ideas rankled, spread and then garnered her such devotion; The Seer of Hudson Street (John Buntin, Wall Street Journal, 9-21-16). Jacobs barely graduated high school, but her brilliance, wrote one reviewer, would have ‘ensured her destruction as a witch’ in an earlier age. You can read an excerpt (on My Little Bird, "D.C.'s Weekend Reading"). Good Q&A interview here (Richard Florida, CityLab, 9-20-16).
• On an Irish Island, as reviewed glowingly by Karin Altenberg, A Paradise Lost to Time (Wall Street Journal 2-25-12)
• The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan. Of all the books in our biography group, this is the one that got made into a movie--The Man Who Knew Infinity, starring Dev Patel, as the self-taught Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, with Jeremy Irons. Who would have bet on that?? Here's an interesting review of the movie (John Aaronson, Shtetl-Optimized, 5-1-16)
• The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, among others.
• High Season: How One French Riviera Town Has Seduced Travelers for Two Thousand Years
• Faux Real: Genuine Leather and 200 Years of Inspired Fakes
• Vintage Reading: From Plato to Bradbury, A Personal Tour of Some of the World's Best Books
• Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty
• Kitty's website
• Cartoons about Kitty (as wallpaper for the room where people are most likely to have time to read them)
• Unauthorized, But Not Untrue (Kitty Kelley, American Scholar, Winter 2011). Followed up by an interview on All Things Considered (12-11-10): "Kitty Kelley Defends The 'Unauthorized' Biography."
• Wikipedia entry about Kitty Kelley
Kitty's books (intentionally unauthorized):
• Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys , a labor of love. Read excerpt here (Huffpost). Kitty talks about Stanley's photos of the Kennedys (with slide show) on video here, speaking at Gaithersburg Book Festival.
• Martin's Dream Day by Kitty, for children, with photos by Stanley Tretick
• Let Freedom Ring: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the March on Washington
• Oprah: A Biography. Video of Kathy Griffin interviewing Kitty about Oprah (Kitty is one of the few WBG members who would be invited to dish on talk shows--and she does it with relish here.)
• The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty
• The Royals
• Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography
• Jackie Oh!
• Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star
• His Way: An Unauthorized Biography Of Frank Sinatra
and before that:
• The Glamour Spas
"With each biography the challenge has been to answer the question John F. Kennedy posed when he said, 'What makes journalism so fascinating and biography so interesting is the struggle to answer the question: 'What's he like?'" In writing about contemporary figures, I've found the unauthorized biography avoids the pureed truths of revisionist history — the pitfall of authorized biography. Without having to follow the dictates of the subject, the unauthorized biographer has a much better chance to penetrate the manufactured public image, which is crucial. For, to quote President Kennedy again, 'The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.'" ~ excerpt from the foreword to Oprah: A Biography. See fuller excerpt with Karen Grigsby Bates' story on NPR about the book: Oprah the Icon Gets the Kitty Kelley Treatment
• The Kitty Kelley Files (Pat McNees, ASJA newsletter, May 2002, PDF). On the importance of a good timeline and other tips on doing successful unauthorized biographies.
• Celebrity Smackdown: Kitty Kelley takes on Oprah Winfrey (Lauren Collins, Books, The New Yorker, 4-19-10).“A Kitty Kelley biography of Oprah Winfrey is one of those King Kong vs. Godzilla events in celebrity culture.”
• Kitty Kelley: Barbara Walters, Larry King And Letterman Don’t Want To Offend Oprah (Colby Hall, Media-ite 11-12-10).Click on Matt Lauer's interview with Kitty, embedded.
• Michael Kilian (Adam Bernstein's obituary about Michael, Wash Post, 10-27-05)
Linda Lear (her website) and her books:
• Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature
• Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature
• Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson
• Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives (Connecticut College)
• The Next Page: The Tale of Beatrix Potter (Linda Lear, Post-Gazette, 7-31-16) The creator of the Peter Rabbit was also a marketing genius and ardent conservationist, writes Linda J. Lear
Selby Fleming McPhee, author of Love Crazy, which, as Annette Gendler's Q&A in Washington Independent Review of Books says, "provides a unique, engaging and entertaining experience of one couple's journey from the Roaring '20s to the sobering '40s and beyond." It is based on a box of letters she found from 1900 to 1945. She's now working on a book about her Vassar cohort in the 1960s, hoping to interview many women about the 'sixties.
Pat McNees's books:
• My Words Are Gonna Linger: The Art of Personal History (co-edited with Paula Stallings Yost). On that topic, read Pat's article: The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities by Pat McNees (Geriatric Care Management Journal, Spring 2009)
• Building Ten at Fifty: Fifty Years of Clinical Research at the NIH Clinical Center, from which you can read selections and watch a video here.
• Changing Times, Changing Minds: 100 Years of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
• New Formulas for America's Workforce: Girls in Science and Engineering (written for the National Science Foundation), readable or downloadable free here
• An American Biography: An Industrialist Remembers the Twentieth Century, with a foreword by Robert Kanigel. Comments here.
• By Design: The Story of Crown Equipment Corporation (an amazing lift truck manufacturer)
• YPO: The First 50 Years (a history of the Young Presidents' Organization)
• Contemporary Latin American Short Stories (edited by Pat and in print since 1974)
• Dying: A Book of Comfort (healing words on loss and grief) , Pat's popular anthology. Go here to buy the lovely small gift edition (available only from Pat), go here to read selections from the anthology, and go here for the companion website with useful links and information about critical and chronic illness, caregiving, death and dying, end-of-life care, and funerals and memorial services.
Pat's websites, pieces
• Writers and Editors
• Dying, Surviving, and Aging with Grace (not in that order--started as companion website to her book Dying: A Book of Comfort. Has expanded into illness and other things that can kill you or make you feel terrible)
• Pat McNees, writer, editor, ghostwriter, personal historian (and, in 2010-11, president of the Association of Personal Historians)
• Memoir, biography, and histories of organizations
Pat teaches a workshop at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD: "My Life, One Story at a Time." Here's a photo of someone reading one of the books that came out of that workshop: Kim Firestone's (love the photo).
• The difference between a memoir and an autobiography, or memoirs
• The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities
• Writing workshops as group therapy
• A hairstyle of my own (Pat McNees, video by Bill Erwin) based on a story written in Guided Autobiography workshop
Kristie Miller -- her website and blog (Kristie writes about women in politics) and her books and videos of interviews with her:
• Mark Hanna (website and blog on which Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis's first piece answers the question: Did Mark Hanna pay a bribe during his 1898 Senate campaign?
• C-Span video of Kristie's talk about Ellen & Edith at 2011 National Book Festival, followed by call-in questions. (I have never seen a better-organized book festival--they whipped her from one tent to another and covered it all!)
• Kristie's Q&A about Wilson's women at National Press Club Authors' Night
• It Looks Like Mark Hanna’s Biographer Invented Quotes (Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis, History Network News, 1-20-14)
• Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies (the Modern First Ladies series -- WONDERFUL cover, great stories). Check out the blurbs on the publisher's page.
• Watch Kristie Miller's interview about President's Wilson's wives. Video of Kimberly Craft (Arizona Public Media) interviewing Kristie about first ladies Ellen and Edith Wilson.
• A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway, 1904-1953 (co-edited with Robert H. McGinnis)
• Isabella Greenway: An Enterprising Woman, reviewed here by Jo Freeman
• Ruth Hanna McCormick: A Life in Politics, 1880-1944 (Kristie's grandmother)
• Kristie Miller's talk about Edith Wilson on C-Span
• George Will and Peter Beinart Take a Woodrow Wilson Quote Out of Context (by Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis)
• Kristie Miller's Letter of Intent
• Movie Mom (Nell's blog on Belief.net -- a parent's eye on media, culture, and values -- excellent reviews and commentary)
• MovieMom's Double Life by Christina Ianzito (Washington Post Magazine, 7-5-09: When Nell Minow isn't ripping apart some lame action film or appalling gross-out comedy, she's busy attacking overpaid corporate executives and the 'boneheaded' decisions they make)and the online chat with Nell the following week.
• "The Pay Problem" by David Owen, The World of Business (New Yorker, 10-12-09, on Nell Minow and the regulation of executive compensation), followed by Nell Minow on the gutting of financial reform (an edited transcript of Avi Zenilman's conversation with Nell).
• The Corporate Critic; Nell Minow Uses Her Zeal for Films to Investors' Advantage (Adam Bryant, NYTimes, 1-19-1999)
• Profile on Rotten Tomatoes (plus her ratings on movies for families and quotes from her excellent movie reviews -- for example, about Winnie the Pooh: "Reassuring on such a deep level because the characters are aspects of each of us and each of their struggles and mistakes feels very true to us." — Movie Mom, Beliefnet
• The Bizarre World of Nell Minow (pt. 2) (Robert Elisberg, Elisberg Industries, 9/24/2017. And here's pt. 1, The Good Ship Minow.
• End of Life Stories (a safe place to share stories of love and loss, devastating grief, exhausting care-giving, memorials, advanced directives, mourning, hope, and despair. "What you wish you had known or done differently, what you wish those around you had known or done differently, and what went right. We will never tell you to move on or find closure.")
• Miniver Press (Nell's venture in book pubishing: an author-focused publisher of nonfiction ebooks and print books)
• Nell Minow's talk at the Gel 2011 conference , stories about mistakes, in the worlds of finance and motion pictures. (Nell's father, Newton Minow gave a much-cited speech 50 years earlier, calling TV programming a "vast wasteland," which prompted the producers of "Gilligan's Island" to name its boat the S. S. Minnow.)
• Shareholder crusaders Monks and Minow speak out (Kathleen Day, 25CNBC, 10-20-14) "Robert Monks and Nell Minow have become America's inseparable deans of corporate governance, loved and loathed for 30 years of pioneering work trying to hold directors and executives of publicly traded companies accountable to shareholders."
Ann Miller Morin, Her Excellency: An Oral History of American Women Ambassadors (mandatory reading for new ambassadors)
James McGrath Morris (who used to come to most of our meetings; then he moved away, and formed Biographers International Organization, and launched the Biographer's Craft newsletter, and we still think of him as a member)
• The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War . See Ashley Oliphant's review in WIRB (3-20-17).
• ‘Eye on the Struggle,’ James McGrath Morris’s Biography of Ethel Payne (review by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, NY Times Book Review, 4-2-15) "Morris’s fine biography shows that through Ethel Payne’s life, the black press helped change America and the world.
• Jamie's bio page, with links to reviews, talks, interviews
• Reporting Across the Color Line (The Daily Beast, 2-6-15) Morris considered himself a colorblind liberal until he wrote the biography of a black female journalist. Then he learned how little he knew about race in America.
• Ethel Payne,‘first lady of the black press,’asked questions no one else would (Washington Post, 8-12-11)
• Revolution By Murder: Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and the Plot to Kill Henry Clay Frick (a Kindle single, 51 pages)
• James McGrath Morris on C-SPAN, video of Jamie talking about Pulitzer (and boy is this a talk that makes one eager to read the book!)
• The History of Beats Newspaper beats didn’t really take off until a little over a century ago, says Morris (On the Media, 9-12-14) on Deadbeatsa fascinating series on the decline in beat reporting, a casualty of cost cutting.
• Various talks, available on YouTube
• The Biographer’s New Best Friend (Stephen Mihm, SundayReview, NY Times, 9-10-11). Essay on what Jamie's research about Pulitzer taught him about today's research options.
• Author Q&A: James McGrath Morris (interviewed by David O. Stewart, for Washington Independent Review of Books, 5-10-10)
• Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power. Read Jonathan Yardley's review (Wash Post, 2-21-10)
• Grant Seekers Guide, 6th Edition (2005)
• The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, & Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism
• Philip Nel
• Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature
Johanna Neuman, occasional blogger for L.A. Times "Top of the Ticket"
• Lights, Camera, War: Is Media Technology Driving International Politics? (chronicling the impact of media inventions from Johann Gutenberg’s printing press to Bill Gates’s computer software)
Marc Pachter, our life stories guru
• Marc Pachter, editor of Telling Lives: The Biographer's Art, speaks about The art of the interview (Ted Talk, filmed 1-08; posted 12-09). Excellent advice for those doing public interviews, as Marc did brilliantly for the National Portrait Gallery. Marc profiled here: Marc Pachter has spent his career curating and creating intimate portraits of the lives of others.
• Marc Pachter on Writing a Life Story. This William O'Sullivan column in Washingtonian (4-1-06) quotes Marc Pachter and Ken Ackerman about biographies and WBG. O'Sullivan quotes Marc as saying a biographer's task is “to create something that’s readable yet subject to the discipline of the truth. Traditional biography -- academic biography, 19th-century biography -- didn’t have these narrative aspirations. Trying to write something as compelling as a novel but based in research is difficult.” Marc says one of WBG's main purposes is to lend support. “Biographers have this strange other relationship besides a family member that they want to talk about,” Pachter says. “It really is a relationship with another life.” Built into the article is an excellent reading list on political biography.
• Q&A with Marc Pachter C-Span video, 58 min., 12-12-07. Marc Pachter talked about his work at the National Portrait Gallery and the operations of the Smithsonian Institution. He retired in 2007 after 33 years at the Smithsonian, where he served as chief historian and assistant director at the Portrait Gallery, acting director of the National Museum of American History, as well as deputy assistant secretary for external affairs and chair of the Smithsonian's 150th anniversary celebration in 1996.
• Portrait Gallery Director to Retire in '07 (Jacqueline Trescott, Washington Post 12-12-06)
• Marc Pachter acting director at National Museum of American History (August 2011, great photo with story in Art Daily). This was after three years experiencing brief sojourns in various great cities of the world, including Berlin, Bangkok, Sydney, London, and Manhattan.
Joseph A. Page. Peron: A Biography. Wrote a New York Times reviewer : "a clearly written, definitive study, the first biography that traces the legendary caudillo from birth to power to exile and back to power and death. This is a considerable feat of historical writing because the passions aroused by Peron in his nation are so great."
• Diana Parsell's site, A Great Blooming , a biography project on Eliza Ruhamah Ruhama Scidmore, whose vision gave Washington its cherry trees.
• Diana Parsell on Eliza Scidmore,the woman behind the planting of Washington's cherry trees in 1912 (guest blog on Viral History)
Will Pittman's book about baseball, Roaming the Outfield (available as a non-ISBN book on the Politics and Prose Opus Bookshelf) is a series of essays examining baseball for its moral and philosophical implications (using baseball as a lens to focus on Siddhartha, Nietzsche, Foucault, and others)--light-hearted philosophy and heavy on examination of the Washington Nationals mediocre 2013 season. A gift for thoughtful baseball fans. Will helps David O. Stewart organize Books Alive, the annual Washington Independent Review of Books conference.
Michael Putzel. The Price They Paid: Enduring Wounds of War. Dramatic true story of a legendary helicopter commander in Vietnam and the flight crews that followed him into the most intensive helicopter warfare ever—and how that brutal experience changed their lives in the forty years after the war ended (note the 50 five-star Amazon reviews).
Nicholas Reynolds, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway's Secret Adventures, 1935-1961. Read or listen to NPR's Chronicling Ernest Hemingway's Relationship With the Soviets (with Scott Simon, 3-17-17)
Nana Rinehart, whose memoir Politics & Prose published: Weaving Worlds Together, is currently writing a biography of labor activist Louise Odenkrantz.
John P. Richardson
• Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation's Capital
John F. Ross (website) ...that rare soul who writes narrative history with the verve and timing of an accomplished novelist." ~ Douglas Brinkley
• Bio. Currently working on a bio of John Wesley Powell, an early explorer of the Colorado River.
• John F. Ross, former sr editor at Smithsonian magazine, managing editor of American Heritage (Motoko Rich, NY Times, 10-24-07)
• Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed . Highly rated on Goodreads.
Henry "Duke" Ryan's books:
• Amanda's Autobiography by Duke Ryan (illustrator Ophelia Redpath). A girl's account of her fabulous first decade (told with help from her grandfather)
• Turning Points: Stories of Love, Crime, and Faith, a revised and updated version of Impure Thoughts four novellas by Duke Ryan
• The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies, and Diplomats by Henry Butterfield Ryan
• The Vision of Anglo-America: The US-UK Alliance and the Emerging Cold War, 1943-1946 by Henry Butterfield Ryan
• Amy's guest blog on Nicholas Katzenbach , the subject of her next biography (on the Viral History blog)
• Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. In a debate about equal rights for women, a male legislator said, "I just don't like this amendment. I've always thought of women as kissable, cuddly and smelling good." Her reply was classic Fenwick: "That's the way I feel about men, too. I only hope for your sake that you haven't been disappointed as often as I have." ~ quoted by Amy in her biography and in an article published for what would have been Millicent Fenwick's 100th birthday: Remembering New Jersey's Millicent Fenwick at 100: Outspoken, unique and 'the conscience of Congress'
• Amy's website about Fenwick
• Amy's talk about Millicent Fenwick on C-SPAN.
Scott D. Seligman
• Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York's Chinatown by Scott D. Seligman (Viking, July). A mesmerizing true story of money, murder, gambling, prostitution, and opium: the Chinese gang wars that engulfed New York’s Chinatown from the 1890s through the 1930s. Scott will be speaking at Politics & Prose on Tues., July 2, at 7 pm.
• The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo .
• Three Tough Chinamen -- (Website page with events, etc.)
Ruta Sevo (Momox website). "More Moxie" -- a site with a bias toward boomer professional women, activists, adventurers, writers, and artists.
• Vilnius Diary (art by TaDas Gutauskas)
• Serving Up Science and Engineering (to girls especially): a quick briefing by Barbara Bogue and Ruta Sevo
• Basics About Disabilities and Science and Engineering Education
• White Bird, a novel with Buddhists, set in Kathmandu
Karen A. Shaffer (Maud Powell Society). Check out Spring 2015 Souvenir, newsletter of The Maud Powell Society for Music and Education.
John T. Shaw
• JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency
Charles J. Shields
• And So It Goes -- Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, blogged about at Writing Kurt Vonnegut
• Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
Suzanne E. Smith
• Tuning Into the “Happy Am I” Preacher: Researching the Radio Career of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux (Sounding Out!, 3-5-15). "Professor Suzanne Smith of George Mason University gives us a preview of her research into a radio evangelist who was among the most prominent African Americans of his day, yet has been largely forgotten. "
• Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit
• To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death. Author page at Harvard University Press
James Srodes's books:
• Franklin: America's Essential Founding Father
• Allen Dulles: Master of Spies
• Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z. DeLorean, with coauthor Ivan Fallon
David O. Stewart, founder of Washington Independent Review of Books , and organizer of WIRB's first conference, Books Alive! (2013). After attending several such conferences I can report that they are days well spent. Here's a write-up about WIRB on Critical Mass (the National Book Critics Circle's blog).
• David O. Stewart's Facebook page
• Up Next: George Washington, America's Master Politician
• (C-SPAN Q&A, Brian Lamb interviews constitutional lawyer David Stewart about his book, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy. Transcript here. Great material, and David knows how to give a talk, so if you're invited to be interviewed by C-SPAN, I recommend you watch/listen to or read this.
• Conversations with Great Minds interview (video), How Madison & Jefferson Transformed Politics. ("He was always the best-prepared person in the room.")
• The Truth is Quieter Than Fiction "Writing historical fiction enriches history writing, sensitizing authors to the human side of a story and the textures of daily life. What tunes did people hum? How dirty were they? How did they dispose of waste—human and other types?" "Writing historical fiction can lead writers of history to powerful backstage moments, but it does not relax the essential requirements of careful documentation and thoughtful, fact-based interpretations."
• Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Constitutional Amendments (History News Network, 2-15-15)
• Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America. Listen to Q&A about Madison on C-Span
• Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy
• The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution
• The Lincoln Deception (a novel)
• The Babe Ruth Deception (a Fraser and Cook mystery)
• Family of Assassins: The Surratts of Maryland (audiofile, talk before Virginia Historical Society)
• His blog: Constitutional Journal and the father-son bike trip blog, with photos (and a biking adventure with his son, Matt, from Warsaw to Odessa, in search of family roots (July 2008)
Theodore H. Barth FoundationOur Unfinished Constitution (op ed in Los Angeles Times, 5-27-07)
• Killing Them Softly
Leslie Sussan. Daughter of American photographer visits Hiroshima with father's photos of the bomb's aftermath (Hiroshima Peace Media Center story). Article: "Writing about a character’s death is important to my views about a figure. Death is a great leveler. We arrive in life naked and leave it the same. How people meet their deaths, and the reactions of those close to them, is significant."
Tara Leigh Tappert
• Out of the Background:Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture.
• World War I Veterans and Art Therapy (C-SPAN, 1-22-15). Tara talks about how art therapy was used to help World War I veterans deal with the trauma of war. She used letters and works of art from former soldiers to illustrate the culture of war and the process of healing.
Steve Taravella, Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before , Moviegoers know her as the housekeeper in White Christmas, Bette Davis's nurse in Now, Voyager, the crotchety choir director in Sister Act, and Lucille Ball's long-time friend and co-star on "I Love Lucy." See her IMDb bio and this review of Steve's book (in True Classics).
• The WFP Wants to End Global Hunger in 15 Years (Matthew Zuras, The Munchies, Vice, 10-12-15). Quotes Steve at length about his day job with the World Food Programme. Important work!
Vincent Tobin. Has a first draft done of his biography of his grandfather, Daniel Tobin, head of the Teamsters Union for 45 years. Here's an article mentioning his project: Daniel Tobin and the Rise of the Teamsters Union (Bruce Vail, in These Times, 5-27-15)
Marlene Trestman. Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin
Bob Wampler posts on UNREDACTED (the national security archive, unedited and uncensored). You can see his bio here: National Security Archive Staff and Fellows
• How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?
Steve Weissman. Chaplin: A Life, a psychiatrist analyzes the early life and career of the screen legend. This has been published in several languages! Here is Steve's website, and you can listen online to Diane Rehm's interview with him.
Paula Tarnapol Whitacre (her website) and her Facebook page
• A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time: Julia Wilbur's Struggle for Purpose (biography of an abolitionist who spent the Civil War in Alexandria, VA)
• Made My Deadline: Here's How (7-9-16)
• Happy 30th, Washington Biography Group (12-11-06)
Linda Crichlow White. Back There, Then, A Historical, Genealogical Memoir by Marietta Stevens Crichlow and Linda Crichlow White. Check out Back There, Then website.
Sonja D. Williams.
• How The Writer's Center Helped Me Get Published (among those praised in Sonja's piece are David O. Stewart and Ken Ackerman, whose nonfiction writing courses helped her, and C.M. Mayo, who helps people find their literary voice).
• Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio, and Freedom (forthcoming Sept. 2015, University of Illinois Press). See See blog about.
• Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was (Sonja was a producer on this Peabody Award winning 13-part documentary (Radio International, PRI)
See Ronald Collins' interesting Q&A with Wohl on Scotusblog, the preeminent Supreme Court/legal website.
Helena E. Wright, Curator of Graphic Arts, National Museum of American History.
• The First Smithsonian Collection: The European Engravings of George Perkins Marsh and the Role of Prints in the U.S. National Museum (the book, a biography of the collection, including a biography of Marsh as well as a full account of the life of his collection of prints)
• The First Smithsonian Collection: the European Engravings of George Perkins Marsh and the Role of Prints in the U. S. National Museum (the collection)
Wilbur I. Wright Sr. (oral history, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, Labor, 4-25-97)
Ginny Carson Young. Peregrina: Unexpected Adventures of an American Consul . "It's a great read," says Steve Taravella.
Other biography centers, groups, and resources
• The Association of Personal Historians (APH), alas, is defunct, as of early 2017. Local groups are forming, including
---Personal Historians Facebook group
---Personal Historians Northeast Facebook group
---Metro New York Facebook group
---Life Story Writers of the Capital Area (forming but not yet online)
---21 frequently asked questions about personal histories and personal historians
---The Business of Personal Histories (ASJA Weekly, Dec. 2018)
---Links to stories about personal histories and personal historians..
• The Biographers' Club (London-based). Awards several prizes to biographers, has fairly frequent meetings, with speakers. Here's a description of one meeting: Julie Wheelwright, the programme director of the UK's first MA in Creative Writing Nonfiction at City University and author of The Fatal Lover: Mata Hari and the Myth of Women in Espionage, talked about Where the Truth Lies? An exploration of the challenges biographer and historians face writing in an unstable genre.' Fake memoires, doctored documentaries, nonfiction books outstripping sales for fiction - what does it all mean? Julie Wheelwright explores the pressures that historians and biographers face as access to information explodes while the media increasingly blurs the traditional divide between fact and fiction.
• Biographers International Organization (BIO, U.S. based), devoted to all aspects of the art and craft (and sometimes the business) of biography. Membership entitles you to the excellent, slim Biographer's Craft newsletter, a discount on the annual conference, the Compleat Biographer, and a link to your author's website.
• Biography Institute ( Biografie Instituut, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands)
• The Biography Society (La Société de Biographie, in France -- a scholarly society of research, international and interdisciplinary, devoted to the development and the valorisation of the theory and the practice of biography)
• Boston Biographers Group (formed in January 2008) meets third Sunday of month at the University Lutheran Church, near Harvard Square, Cambridge. At a week-long workshop on biography held at Radcliffe (June 2007), 36 applicants ("The Schlesinger 36") chosen to have one-on-one mentoring got more favorable mingling opportunities than the one-hundred-odd others. Some participants noticed that those with academic affiliations were given better opportunities to mingle with the great than, say, journalists were. A small group from Boston's north shore and the southern New Hampshire area decided to form a group to build community among biographers and provide mentoring and networking opportunities,and a chance to exchange leads and tips on publishing.
• The Center for Biographical Research (University of Hawai`i at Manoa), academic studies of biography
• Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research (University of Sussex, UK) Life history and life writing research uses life story - whether in the form of oral history, personal narrative, autobiography or biography - as a primary source for the study of history and culture.
• Centre for Life-Writing Research (Kings College, London)
• Centre for Narrative and Auto/Biographical Studies. (University of Edinburgh, School of Social and Political Science) NABS brings together people interested in all aspects of narrative and all forms of auto/biographical representation, from talk to transcribed text, from photographs to memorial sites, from verbal introductions to hagiography, from letters and cards to friends to memoirs and autobiographies, from obituaries to painted portraits, from academic biography to sculpture, and more. NABS very much welcomes the diversity of perspectives, theories and methodologies which exist in this area of work and it is committed to theoretical and methodological openness, rather than being associated with any particular approach.
• Center for the Study of Transformative Lives (New York University) Students and researchers study inspiring individuals in the context of their times and the circles in which they moved, using them as powerful lenses through which to view history and understand societal change
• Challenges to Biography (Arts & Humanities Research Council, a forum for the discussion of biography in the 21st century). Click on various categories, including the blogs, and you will find a wealth of resources, including podcasts from past conferences.
• Consortium for the Study of Biography, at the Annenberg School for Communication, USC -- no longer exists, says Ed Cray, its founder.
• International Auto/Biography Association (Wikipedia entry, as the link we had led to a site in Chinese)
• Leon Levy Center for Biography (founded in 1993, The Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, or CUNY). Envisioned as a hub for writers, scholars, students and readers of biography, the Leon Levy seeks to build connections between independent and university-affiliated biographers across the disciplines and to cultivate lively discussions about the art and craft of biography historically and in our time. Sponsors the Annual Biography Lecture (in the fall), the Annual Conference on Biography (spring), and various public presentations and programs. Offers four resident fellowships annually to fund the research and writing of outstanding biographies and two fellowships to CUNY dissertation students writing biography.
Los Angeles Biographers. A group of biographers loosely affiliated with PEN meets fairly regularly in Santa Monica, with Kay Mills at its center.
• Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography (University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria)
• National Centre of Biography (Australian National University, Canberra, Australia)
• Nègres pour inconnus, which a Belgian referred me to, is an association of "écrivains biographes," which seems to be a French counterpart of the Association of Personal Historians. ""Nègres," says my friend, "is the plural of the N word in French, but it means a slave-like, underpaid and unrecognized worker, craftsman or artist." See this story about them on their 12th anniversary.
• The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW) (Wolfson College, Oxford) The college's president, Hermione Lee, is an eminent biographer, and several other members of the Governing Body - including Jon Stallworthy - work in life-writing and related disciplines. The college hosts an annual series of Life-Writing lectures and an annual Life-Stories Day, involving auto/biographical presentations from many of the college’s students and Fellows. There is also a lively Life-Stories Society. See links to other life-writing groups in UK and you can listen to podcasts.
• Washington Biography Group (WBG). The Washington (D.C. Area) Biography Group is open to those seriously interested in reading, writing, or researching biographies or memoirs. The group formed after Marc Pachter, then chief historian and later director of the National Portrait Gallery, organized an all-day symposium on "Biography: Life As Art" at The Smithsonian Institution's Baird Auditorium (December 6, 1986)
• Women Writing Women's Lives Biography Seminar . A group of roughly sixty women engaged in writing book-length biographies and memoirs began meeting in 1990, representing a wide range of feminist perspectives and professional backgrounds-- including academics, independent scholars, and journalists. Women Writing Women’s Lives meets under the aegis of the Center for the Study of Women and Society and the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Outsiders are welcome at Public Events . For general inquiries, contact WomenWritingWomensLives@gmail.com
Additional biography-related resources
• Book collaboration and ghostwriting (including collaboration agreements)
• Copyright, fair use, permissions, work for hire, and other rights issues
• Eulogies and video tributes
• Hot list for American autobiography ((web links to material on Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Adams, Black Elk, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, and others)
• Memoir, biography, and corporate histories
• Memoirs (recommended reading)
• Memoirs of Illness, Crisis, Disability, Differentness, and Survival (Dying, Surviving, and Aging with Grace)
• Narrative Nonfiction (examples of, and resources about, Writers and Editors site)
• Oral Histories (online guides and links to resources)
• Payday (a bibliography of North American working class autobiographies, compiled by Cheryl Cline)
• Books to help you get started
• Telling Your Story (Writing your memoirs, creating a family history, leaving lessons learned)
Where and when the Washington Biography Group meets
We meet a different Monday each month (that is, it might be the second Monday; it might be the third, etc -- depends on Marc Pachter's schedule). We rarely know well in advance what the date will be. We meet and in particular end punctually
Monday, 7 to 9 pm
Washington International School
3100 Macomb St., NW
Washington DC 20008
(between 34th Street and Connecticut NW)
The entry to the school is not brightly lit -- it's a gate to a long curving driveway up to the school, which sits way way way back from the road.
We meet now in the Goodman Room (formerly the Terrace Room) in the mansion (the main building)
Park at the top of the driveway and around the circle, where it's permitted, but then:
Go in the main door of the main building.
Go straight to the conference room in the back on the main floor.
We sit around a very large table, and when the room is full we put extra chairs at one end of the table.
Everyone with an interest in biography and memoir is invited.
It's not an exclusive club. We like to talk shop, from how to choose a subject to how to research, interview, write, publish, promote, and so on, with a certain amount of problem-solving along the way. Unlike those who live with us daily and get tired of our subjects, at these meetings we can actually find people to discuss with some energy both our subjects and such arcane craft problems as how to manage footnotes.
We don't meet during the summer.
We meet once a month on Mondays during the school year,
starting in September.
Twice a year, June and December, we have a Sunday afternoon social gathering, often at Kristie Miller's home, where we focus a bit more on ourselves and getting to know each other.