Coaching Program

BIO offers half-hour coaching sessions with accomplished biographers.

Our coaches include authors of biographies on the “best books” lists of Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, The New York Times, and other leading publications, and the 2014 Plutarch Award winner. As a group the coaches have written approximately thirty books.

How to Qualify for the Program
1. In an email application sent via the link below, please describe where you are in your biography career and your specific goal for the half-hour coaching session. For example, you might be contemplating writing your first book, trying to figure out how to frame or sell a proposal, or grappling with a research, interview, writing, or public relations problem. You may list the coach or coaches with whom you would most like to work.

2. A $30 fee covers the basic half-hour session, with the coach reading one page in advance. Additional reading and reviewing is available for $60 per hour. These fees are payable on the Additional Items page of the registration site, and your application email must accompany your conference registration. (If we are unable to accommodate you, your fee will be returned.) The coaching committee will match your needs with the coaches’ areas of expertise. Every effort will be made to accommodate your preferences, but we cannot guarantee that you will be matched with a specific coach.

Email your application
(If you have trouble using this link, please email your application to Will Swift at

The Coaches
Kate Buford’s award-winning Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe (Knopf, 2010; University of Nebraska, 2012) was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Burt Lancaster: An American Life (Knopf/Da Capo/Aurum UK) was named one of the best books of 2000 by The New York Times. Buford has written for The New York Times and other publications and has appeared on many radio and television shows including Charlie RoseHistory Detectives, and Reel Sports. She was a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition and APM’s Marketplace from 1995 – 2004. She serves on the board of BIO.

Cathy Curtis is the author of Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter (Oxford University Press, 2015), the first biography of a prominent 1950s New York artist whose life was as colorful as her paintings. A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, Curtis holds a BA from Smith College and an MA in art history from the University of California, Berkeley. Her next biography, A Generous Vision: The Creative Life of Elaine de Kooning—about a glamorous, free-spirited artist and writer at the social center of the Abstract Expressionists—will be published on September 1, 2017, inaugurating the Oxford Cultural Biographies series.

Irwin Gellman’s first three books featured Franklin Roosevelt and his administration. His fourth book, The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years 1946-1952 was published by Simon & Schuster’s Free Press in 1999. His next book, The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon 1952-1961, published by Yale University Press in 2015, is a painstaking look at the Eisenhower Administration, the relationship between Eisenhower and Nixon, and the politics of the 1950s. Dr. Gellman served as an advisor to the Miller Center’s Presidential Recording project at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2002. He has been a professor at Morgan State College in Baltimore, at Chapman University, where he held the Allergan Chair of Modern American History, at the University of California, Irvine, and at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His article, “The St. Louis Tragedy,” was the basis of the movie The Voyage of the Damned. He and his wife live in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Carla Kaplan, Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University and Chair of the Signs Editorial Board, writes on African-American and women’s literature and culture. Her trade books include the award-winning Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters and Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance (both New York Times Notable Books) and a forthcoming life of muckraking activist Jessica Mitford. Kaplan has also edited and authored numerous scholarly books and editions and received fellowships from the NEH Public Scholar Program, Cullman Center, DuBois Institute, Ransom and Beinecke Libraries, Guggenheim Foundation, and elsewhere.

Linda Leavell is the author of Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, which won the 2014 Plutarch Award, the Modernist Studies Association book award, and the PEN/Weld award for biography. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. She is also the author of Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts: Prismatic Color, a book of literary criticism, and for twenty-five years was a professor of American literature. Her current project, under contract with FSG, is a group biography of the Stieglitz circle.

Justin Martin is the author of four biographies featuring subjects ranging from a Federal Reserve chairman, Greenspan: The Man Behind Money (1999), to a pioneering landscape architect, Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted (2011). His most recent is a group biography, Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians (2014). Martin prides himself on being a thorough researcher and reporter. Armed with the facts, he aims to render his subjects in novelistic fashion and considers it the highest compliment when someone says: “your book reads like fiction.” Martin, a former member of BIO’s board, lives in New York City.

Carl Rollyson is a professor of Journalism at Baruch College, CUNY. His biographies include American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan, Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, and Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography. His books about biography include Biography: A User’s Guide and Confessions of a Serial Biographer. His reviews of biographies have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the New Criterion, and other publications. He is at work on This Alarming Paradox: The Life of William Faulkner.

Carol Sklenicka
’s Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life was named one of the “Best 10 Books of 2009” by The New York Times Book Review, and a notable book of that year by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the Oregonian, and the Washington Post. The book was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and the PEN USA award. Before becoming a biographer, Sklenicka earned a Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis and taught writing at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and Marquette University.  Her current project, a biography of short story writer and novelist Alice Adams, will be published by Scribner.

Will Swift is a biographer, a historian, and a practicing clinical psychologist. His Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage (January, 2014) was shortlisted for the 2015 Plutarch Award and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. His previous books are The Roosevelts and the Royals (2004) and The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm (2008). A founding board member of BIO, Will chairs its Awards Committee, is a member of the 2016 Plutarch Committee, and co-founded the BIO mentorship program. He particularly enjoys discovering facts which help repair historical reputations.