Program for the 2018 BIO Conference

Friday, May 18

Library Tours – Starting at 10:30 a.m.

The New York Public Library – The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Avenue
(42nd Street & Fifth Avenue)
New York NY 10018

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
40 Lincoln Center Plaza
(65th Street & Columbus Avenue)
New York NY 10023

The New-York Historical Society Museum and Library
170 Central Park West
(at 77th Street)
New York NY 10024

Starting at 1:30 p.m.

The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Avenue
(at 36th Streeet)
New York NY 10016

Readings – 5:15 p.m.

Fabbri Mansion
7 East 95th Street
New York, NY 10128

Evening Reception – 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Fabbri Mansion
7 East 95th Street
New York, NY 10128

Presentation of the inaugural Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowships to Natalie Dykstra and Marina Harss

Saturday, May 19

Leon Levy Center for Biography, at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, between 34th and 35th streets

Registration: 7:00 to 8:00 a.m.

Buffet breakfast serving begins at 7:30 a.m.

Welcome by BIO president at 8 a.m.

Breakfast Plenary – 8:15 a.m to 9:15 a.m.

Edmund Morris and his wife Sylvia Jukes Morris will share their views about the craft of biography as it pertains to writing about the living and the dead. They have titled their plenary talk: “Dead Is Easier.”

Panel Sessions – 9:30 a.m

Writing About the Vietnam War
Are the rules different when writing about America’s most controversial overseas war? A panel of historians and biographers who have written extensively about the Vietnam War will discuss the challenges and opportunities in researching, writing, and marketing biographies of politicians, military men and women, and others whose lives were shaped by their participation in the war. Veteran biographers and historians detail and compare research techniques, use of interviews and oral histories, managing your time in the archives, tracking notes, and other practical aspects of biography work.

Moderator: Marc Leepson
Panelists: Kai Bird, Max Boot, and Heath Lee

What Four Top Editors Look for in a Book Proposal
Four senior editors from Doubleday, W.W. Norton, St. Martin’s Press, and Penguin Random House explore how the current trends in the publishing world impact them and their colleagues. Giving us personal examples, they will share the most common red flags and the most enticing elements in book proposals they have reviewed. They will also talk about what a book needs to obtain the approval of their marketing departments.

Moderator: Will Swift
Panelists: Amy Cherry, Tim Duggan, Michael Flamini, and Kristine Puopolo

Writing Multiple Lives
Whether to illuminate the lives of parallel but unconnected people, or to examine multiple individuals who are deeply connected, “group biography” is a loosely defined vehicle for portraying the life story of more than one person. Featuring authors who have successfully employed group biography in diverse formats, this panel explores the special challenges and opportunities—from the initial decision to organizational techniques—for biographers who interweave multiple lives.

Moderator: Linda Leavell
Panelists: Lisa Cohen, Carla Kaplan, and Justin Spring

Reviewing Biography, or What Makes the Critical Cut and Why?
Four eminent critic-editors (authors all) dive deep into how biographies are chosen (and not chosen) for review. What really stands out? What are the trends? Where should biographers look for coverage, and what should they expect, in our rapidly changing media landscape? How best can they help their cause? What are the biographies that are not being written and should be? These and other topics will be be discussed, followed by a Q&A.

Moderator: Gayle Feldman
Panelists: Marie Arana, Ruth Franklin, James Marcus, and Mark Rotella

Panel Sessions – 10:45 a.m.

(Dis)Regarding Biography
Why the long-standing prejudice against biography in the university, and is that changing now that many splendid commercial biographers are also academics? What differences are there between biographical works written by journalists and generalists—Evan Thomas, David McCullough, whomever—and by academics like our panelists? What can we learn from each other?

Moderator: John A. Farrell
Panelists: Nell Painter, David O. Stewart,  and William Taubman

Telling Life Stories: What Biographers Can Learn from Narrative Nonfiction
This panel will consider how biographers can use the elements of narrative nonfiction to tell (and sell) engaging life stories. “Narrative nonfiction” basically means telling true stories that read like novels. The panelists will discuss how they developed their life stories, focusing on narrative elements such as plot, scene, voice, imagery, and theme. This panel is for everyone wondering how to tell their story, how to attract an agent or editor to their story, or how to make their story impossible to put down.

Moderator: Anne Boyd Rioux
Panelists: Alan Pell Crawford, John Matteson, and Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Resurrecting Forgotten Figures
This panel explores the rewards and challenges biographers face when attempting to resurrect the lives of men and women who may have been overlooked or marginalized—sometimes deliberately. Thanks to the success of books like Hidden Figures and Code Girls, biographies that shed light on forgotten or little known figures are now popular in the nonfiction/history market. Whether tackling issues like escaping slavery—when your owner is this country’s first presidential couple, George and Martha Washington; serving as a controversial minister in the Black Panther Party of the 1960s; or working as a visionary civil rights movement pioneer, the authors on this panel will offer guidance on how to successfully research and write about forgotten lives.

Moderator: Pamela Newkirk
Panelists: Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Justin Gifford, and Diane Kiesel

Biography: The Ultimate Interdisciplinary Approach
We are living in the Golden Age of Biography. The genre’s appeal to readers, from all walks of life, has granted it a more serious look by academics in higher education. Liberal Arts professors are dedicating whole semesters to the study of biography. Doctoral candidates are writing biographical dissertations. And those outside of the humanities are beginning to see the value of infusing their STEM courses with biography in order to humanize the subject matter. The genre is transcending traditional scholarly views like never before. But how do biographers themselves become a part of the conversation? How do they gain the attention of academics and get their work listed on course syllabi? Those questions, and much more, will be addressed by this group of educators. (This panel is part of BIO’s exchange program with the Community College Humanities Association.)

Moderator: Billy Tooma
Panelists: Tony Calandrillo, Lindsay M. Warren, and Rebecca L. Williams (60 remaining)

Lunch and Keynote Address – 12:00 p.m.

Roundtable Discussions – 1:45 p.m.

The Power of Celebrity Bios

Political Biographies

First-time Biographers

Women’s Lives

Writing for Young Readers

Literary Biography

Biography and Narrative Nonfiction

Sports, Tech, Money, and Pop Culture

Finding an Agent

The Pros and Cons of a Crowdfunded Publication

Panel Sessions – 3:00 p.m.

Putting the ‘I’ In Biography
This panel will confront the challenging question of when (and how) it’s appropriate for the author to make an appearance in the biography of someone else. Panelists have published first-person biographies, in which their own stories intersect meaningfully with the lives of their subjects. Critics have not always been kind to such experiments in point-of-view, but they can offer an innovative and useful path into the life of the biography’s central figure.

Moderator: Amanda Vaill
Panelists: Rebecca Goldstein, Beverly GrayMegan Marshall, Daniel Mendelsohn, and George Prochnik

On the Screen and on the Page
A conversation on the differences in narrative strategy, framing, pacing, research, and other issues of art and craft between filmed and written works of biography, with filmmaker Griffin Dunne and print biographer Stacy Schiff.

Moderator: Anne Heller

Biography and the Arts
For writers with a background in visual art, music, or dance, working on a biography of an outstanding individual in these fields can be a uniquely pleasurable experience. But books about people in the arts involve special challenges. You need to write clearly and persuasively about complex works (or ephemeral performances), decide how much specialist language to employ, and find a publisher willing to take a gamble on a subject who may be unknown to the general public. Four biographers will discuss their experiences in writing about artists, a choreographer, a classical musician, and an avant-garde pop composer and performer.

Moderator: Heath Lee
Panelists: Cathy Curtis, Anthony DeCurtis, Elizabeth Kendall, and Anthony Tommasini

New Wrinkles in Literary Law
Writing about any subject, living or dead, may involve legal issues. Libel is one concern, relaxation in the standards of “fair use” another. This panel of legal literary experts will examine the recent market trends in this area and help biographers understand their rights—and limits—under the law.

Moderator: Diane Kiesel
Panelists: Eric Rayman, Kirk Schroder, and Ike Williams

Panel Sessions – 4:15 p.m.

The Soul of a Biographer
A conversation between two stellar longtime biographers who both published memoirs about the biographer’s life last year. With Richard Holmes (This Long Pursuit) and James Atlas (The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale).

The Antagonist
The Antagonist: What do you do when your book blows up? How do you deal with antagonistic subjects? Kitty Kelley (Frank Sinatra) and Joe Hagan (Jann Wenner) with tales from the trenches.

Moderator: Charlie Slack

Writing About Friendship In Biography
Eleanor Roosevelt was said to have had a “talent for friendship.” How does a biographer view his or her subject through the particular lens of friendship? What are the challenges and rewards of examining friendships in subjects’ lives? This panel of biographers will discuss how writing about Eleanor and her female relationships outside of her marriage to FDR enriched their portraits of the subject.

Moderator: Marlene Trestman
Panelists: Patricia Bell-Scott, Blanche Wiesen Cooke, and Brigid O’Farrell

What to Leave In, What to Leave Out
You work for a year or two (or more) gathering a mountain of material. Now what? Biographers choose the facts and anecdotes that best tell their stories. But how much research can you include and still keep the narrative lively? What determines how you treat your subject? Hear these issues and others discussed by three highly acclaimed biographers whose work ranges in length from nearly a thousand pages to a hundred fifty pages to New Yorker profiles of several thousand words.

Moderator: William Souder
Panelists: Anne Heller, Vanda Krefft, and Claudia Roth Pierpont

Closing Reception and Announcement of the 2018 Plutarch Award Winner – 5:30 PM

Sunday, May 20

Leon Levy Center for Biography, at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, between 34th and 35th streets

Workshops – 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

The Art of the Proposal – Susan Rabiner
For many would-be biographers, writing a good proposal can be as daunting as researching or writing the book. So what makes a good proposal? Passion, research and fine writing all count. But perhaps most important is the recognition that, while it’s your subject’s life, it’s your story. This session with an editor with thirty years of experience will teach you how to know your story, write that great proposal, and even more important, how to recognize when you have done so.

The Craft of Interviewing – Marlene Trestman and James McGrath Morris
What goes into a productive research interview? Geared for novice biographers as well as seasoned authors seeking to hone their skills, co-presenters James McGrath Morris and Marlene Trestman will share practical tips and model techniques to prepare for and conduct effective interviews, present various ways to record interviews and make transcripts, and discuss legal and ethical issues involved in conducting interviews and quoting from the interviews.

Audio Books – Sonja Williams and Robin Miles
An award-winning radio documentary producer—Sonja Williams—joins with one of the audio world’s top voices—Robin Miles—to explain the importance for your biography’s sales and marketing, the swelling popularity in our multi-platform world, and other ins and outs of taking the words you put down on the page, and transforming them into the drama, interpretation and magic of an audiobook.