2017 Conference Program

On Friday, May 19, BIO will offer afternoon tours of two of Boston’s top archival sites, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Boston Athenaeum. The roster of pre-conference events also features brief readings by biographers of new biographical works. The readings and Friday evening’s opening reception will be held at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

On Saturday,  May 20, the conference kicks off with a breakfast plenary session featuring Larry Tye and David Nasaw in conversation. Following the breakfast, conference attendees will be able to select from 16 panels devoted to topics relating to Core, Craft, Issues, Techniques, and Practicums. At lunch, 2017 BIO Award winner Candice Millard will deliver the keynote address.

  • The Organized Biographer: Managing Your Project
    Veteran biographers detail and compare research management techniques, use of interviews and oral histories, managing your time in the archives, tracking notes, and other practical aspects of biography work.
  • The Birth of a Biography 
    An agent, an editor, and a publicity expert will take us inside a publishing house and demystify the process through which a biography is acquired, shaped, assembled, and sent out into the marketplace.
  • Going Indie
    Traditional publishing does not always offer an avenue to get your biography to readers. This panel explores the pros, cons, and how-tos of becoming a DIY author/publisher.
  • The Challenges of Writing About the Known
    Writing about a well-known figure usually involves making one’s way through voluminous records, a large collection of secondary works, and battling with preconceived notions of your subject. This panel looks into what goes into a new examination of a much-written about or mythical figure.
  • The Challenge of Writing About the Unknown
    The records of lesser-known figures are often scarce and the interest in such persons among publishers is weak. Biographers with experience in exploring the lives of unknown subjects share the challenges—and opportunities—of examining someone the world knows little about.
  • Round Tables
    Round tables offer a chance to network with biographers working in your field, share resources, and solve common problems. Conference participants are invited to register for one of the following topical round tables, with a leader present at each table to facilitate discussion.

     ·      First-time Biographers

    ·      First-person Narration

    ·      Biographies of Family Members

    ·      Group Biography

    ·      Women’s Lives

    ·      Sexuality in Biography

    ·      U.S. History before 1945

    ·      U.S. History after 1945

    ·      Literary Biography

    ·      Celebrities and Popular Culture

    ·      Visual and Performing Arts

  • Slice of a Life 
    As the popularity of cradle-to-grave biographies has decreased, the demand for so-called “slice-of-life” biographies has grown. This kind of biographical work is tricky and requires particular writing skills. Biographers of highly successful slice-of-life books will talk about their strategies and share tips about how to shape the narrative.
  • Keeping it in the Family—Writing about Family Matters
    A discussion of how a biographer deals with family matters historically as compared to how a biographer deals with family matters connected to one’s own DNA. Methods of research, aesthetic distance, empathy—or lack of it—as well concerns about publication of family-related biographies will be explored.
  • Biography and Style
    A dialogue between James Atlas and another writer about breaking all the rules of biography and making it work—beautifully!
  • Off the Page and Onto Stage, Screen, and Broadcast
    Biographers discuss the opportunities and challenges of producing an original biography in media other than the printed page and of adapting biography to film, theater, opera, and radio.
  • Whose Lives Matter, and Who Should Be Writing Them 
    In biography, as in history and current affairs, the lives of people of color and disenfranchised figures are given short shrift.  Biography offers a unique opportunity to correct this imbalance, and the biographers on this panel discuss how to research and illuminate those lives, and provide perspectives regarding who should tell those stories.
  • Women in Love
    Three biographers of formidable women explore how their subjects’ romantic attachments enabled and hindered their lives and work—and how much the savvy biographer focuses on them.
  • Getting the Goods on Your Subject: Lessons from Presidential Biographies
    Three, eminent, presidential biographers explain how they look for and sometimes find new materials in the lives of presidents, with a focus on how biographers of other subjects can adapt these techniques to their own pursuits.
  • Controversy: What Kind to Court and What Kind to Avoid
    “Banned in Boston” used to also mean a boost in book sales. Controversy generates media attention—but also foreseeable perils. Biographers whose books have either disclosed controversial information about their subjects or were controversial in and of themselves discuss their experiences.
  • Beyond the Book Review
    Experienced authors know well that researching, writing, and selling a book is only half the battle. Getting your book known to readers in this new digital world is a whole different challenge, and one that now (in all but a few cases) falls squarely on the shoulders of the writer.
  • Boston / New England Lives
    Each BIO Conference offers a panel focusing on the lives of subjects with ties to the region. Eminent biographers of New England figures will discuss their work.
  • Parallel Lives
    Ever since Plutarch, some biographers have chosen to track the lives of two or more subjects in a single volume. Panelists will discuss both the narrative challenges and the unique opportunities for illumination that such biographical works offer.

Saturday will conclude with a reception and the announcement of the winner of the Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2016, as chosen by BIO members.

Sunday morning will afford attendees a chance to participate in one of the following optional in-depth workshops:

  • Assembling Your Book—James McGrath Morris
    Now that you have written the book, how do you deal with photos, illustrations, permissions, footnotes, endnotes, and copyright issues? This workshop is a complete guide to all aspects of preparing your manuscript for publication.
  • Making a Book Trailer—Carl Rollyson
    How to begin, where to broadcast, how to follow up, and deciding what to show. This workshop will show different kinds of trailers and generate ideas for your own biographies.
  • Writing Your First Biography—Julia Markus
    How does one weave a narrative that keeps the reader interested while at the same time being faithful to the facts? This workshop will deal with how to introduce your subject in a way that will attract the reader (and hopefully the agent/publisher). You are free to bring in the opening section of your work to read and discuss in the workshop. Or, perhaps you have met an obstacle along the way and wish to bring in other pages to read and discuss. Then again, perhaps you are having difficulty in relating the subject of your biography to another person of importance in his or her life. Bring in your pages—with some copies to be returned if possible—or just bring in your questions.
  • Book Proposals—Andrew Lownie
    Every biography begins with a book proposal. This workshop will offer hands-on guidance to writing a successful proposal—one that sells!