The Washington Biography Group and other auto/biography groups and centers
• Meetings of the Washington Biography Group
• Links to websites and books of WBG members
• Other biography centers and resources
• Additional resources
• Where and when WBG meets
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 moves to New York City. (He'll return for some meetings.)
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. The tbird conference will be Saturday April 25, 2015, at the Bethesda Marriott at Pooks Hill (5151 Pooks Hill Rd., Bethesda, MD 20814)
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.
Photos (taken by Amy Schapiro and Jo Freeman) from WBG anniversary, with Marc Pachter at National Press Club and then the National Portrait Gallery
Kenneth Ackerman. His books:
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.
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
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
David Challinor's obituary: Smithsonian Official David Challinor, 87
Mimi Clark Gronlund's biography of her father: Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark: A Life of Service
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.)
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, You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South. Stephanie has been in the news quite a bit -- for example, scroll halfway down this link to find Stephanie Deutsch talks about Rosenwald schools.
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
Jack Elliott. Adventures in Flying (Amy Schapiro's father)
Jan Elvin.The Box from Braunau: In Search of My Father's War
Dorothy Fall, Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar. See also Dorothy's website and a site for Bernard Fall and his works.
Millicent Fenwick: Her Way by Amy Schapiro. 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 Schapiro 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'
Jo Freeman's website about women in politics, her articles for Senior Women Web, and her books:
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
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)
Here are Ten cameos from the Folgers' world.
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.
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).
Nancy Thorndike Greenspan, author of The End of the Certain World: The Life and Science of Max Born
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."
The Man in the Mink Hat (Persimmon Tree, from Diary of a Mad Hatter)
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)
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 /a> (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 Kainer aka "Alma Lehrer" (Grande Dame Lit)
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
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
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.
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
Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography
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 Dont 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
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.
Writers and Editors
Dying, Surviving, and Aging with Grace (not in that order--companion website to her anthology on dying.
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." One book to come out of that workshop is Kim Firestone's (love the photo).
Kristie Miller -- her website and blog (Kristie writes about women in politics) and her books and videos of interviews with her:
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 Hannas 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
Miniver Press (Nell's new venture: 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.)
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, and also formed Biographers International Organization, and launched the Biographer's Craft newsletter)
Jamie's bio page, with links to reviews, talks, interviews
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!)
Various talks, available on YouTube
The Biographers 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
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 Gutenbergs printing press to Bill Gatess 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 thats readable yet subject to the discipline of the truth. Traditional biography -- academic biography, 19th-century biography -- didnt 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.
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.
Henry "Duke" Ryan's books:
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
Impure Thoughts four novellas by Duke Ryan
Amy Schapiro, Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. Here's Amy's website about Fenwick and here's Amy's talk about Millicent Fenwick on C-SPAN. And here is Amy's guest blog on Nicholas Katzenbach , the subject of her next biography (on the Viral History blog)
Scott D. Seligman
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
Karen A. Shaffer (Maud Powell Society)
Charles J. Shields
And So It Goes -- Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, blogged about at Writing Kurt Vonnegut
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
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), which I can report was a day 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
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)
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)
Our 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 characters 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
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).
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.
See Ronald Collins' interesting Q&A with Wohl on Scotusblog, the preeminent Supreme Court/legal website.
Ginny Carson Young. Peregrina: Unexpected Adventures of an American Consul . "It's a great read," says Steve Taravella.
Other biography centers, groups, and resources
Association of Personal Historians (APH), helping ordinary people tell their life stories. Frequently Asked Questions About the Association of Personal Historians (APH), personal histories, and life story writing
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), devoted to all aspects of the art and craft (and sometimes the business) of biography. Membership entitles you to the Biographer's Craft newsletter and a discount on the annual conference, the Compleat Biographesr.
Biography Institute ( Biografie Instituut, University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands)
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.
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)
Nθgres pour inconnus, which a Belgian referred me to, is an association of "ιcrivains biographes," which seems to be a French counterpart of the Association of Personal Historians. ""Nθgres," 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 colleges 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 Womens 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
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)
Writers and Editors (a sister site with links to tremendous resources for writers, editors, those who use their services, and those who wish to join their ranks)
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 now 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.
Books, articles, and more
Writing or telling life stories
Dancing, food, good books, and other diversions
Medical mysteries, patient stories, and practical links
Dying, mourning, and other inevitable events
Girls and science