Conference

BIO Conference Returns to Boston!

On May 19–21, the annual BIO Conference returns to Boston, where the organization held its first gathering in 2010. The conference will offer research workshops, a full day of panels, numerous networking opportunities, a conversation between two highly respected biographers, and a keynote address by the 2017 BIO Award winner, whose name will be revealed in February.

“This year’s program is bound to please the membership,” said James McGrath Morris, co-chair of the Program Planning Committee. “The wide variety of topics, terrific panelists, and workshop leaders is both a testimony to the hard work of the program committee and to the excitement generated by our annual conference. If you are a biographer, or aspire to be one, you’ll want to be in Boston.”

Registration for the conference will begin on January 25. Current BIO members will receive an email with a link to the registration site to take advantage of the early-bird discount. Further details on the agenda and panelists will be posted here as they become available.

The Friday research workshops this year will be held at the Boston Athenaeum and the Massachusetts Historical Society. The latter will also be the site for the opening reception on Friday night.

 Saturday will begin with a plenary breakfast at which Larry Tye will be featured in conversation with David Nasaw. A New York Times best-selling author, Tye’s most recent book is a biography of Robert F. Kennedy, the former attorney general, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate. Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon explores RFK’s extraordinary transformation from cold warrior to fiery leftist. Nasaw is a historian and the author of numerous biographies, including The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.
Following the breakfast, conference attendees will be able to select from 16 panels devoted to topics relating to Core, Craft, Issues, Techniques, and Practicums.
 
  • 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.
  • 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.
     Sunday morning will afford attendees a chance to participate in one of the following 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! 
      Sunday morning will afford attendees a chance to participate in one of the following 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! 

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Seventh Annual BIO Conference in Richmond, Virginia!

We’re posting video excerpts from the conference here; members can access full videos in the Member Area as they become available.

 

President-elect Will Swift’s inaugural address to BIO members at the 2016 BIO conference in Richmond, Virginia.

Excerpt from the morning plenary session with Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers Annette Gordon-Reed and T.J. Stiles

 

 

 

Of all the programs and services provided to BIO members, Biographers International Organization is proudest of its annual conference. Each year, BIO brings together some of the finest practitioners of the craft of biography to help guide, mentor, encourage, and advise attendees on a wide variety of topics relating to the the writing, researching, and selling of biography.

The conference also offers a unique opportunity to hear some of biography’s best — and best-known — writers share their stories. Each year’s luncheon features a keynote address by the recipient of the BIO Award — past speakers have included Jean Strouse, Robert Caro, Stacy Schiff, and Taylor Branch — as well as special sessions featuring biographers and historians like David Maraniss, Evan Thomas, and Douglas Brinkley.

Members also tell us one of their favorite things about the conference is the opportunity to meet and mingle with their fellow writers. The BIO conference provides many opportunities to socialize and swap stories with fellow biographers, from the Friday night cocktail reception — held at exciting local venues, like the Georgetown home of biographer Kitty Kelley —  to the Saturday evening closing reception where we present the Plutarch Award for the year’s best biography.

But don’t take our word for it. Hear what others have to say:

“I’m so pleased that I was able to attend the 2015 Biographers International Conference luncheon and look forward to future events! Taylor Branch was a profound keynote speaker . . . I am so inspired by Branch’s works, the King Trilogy, Clinton memoir, among his books, and look forward to Branch’s upcoming  film project with The Wire producers. Please extend my thanks to the staff, board and volunteers for assuring that Biographers International Organization is a wonderful resource for all writers!”

— Jacqueline Miller Byrd

Remembering, A. Philip Randolph


“What struck me that stood out at BIO from other writers conferences was the quality of conversation—from the hugely enlightening panelists, the lunchtime talk from Ron Chernow, and especially the questions and discussion from the members.  I’ve never met a group of writers as passionate about their craft.”

 —Ryan Doherty, Senior Editor, Ballantine Books


“I can’t express enough how lucky I feel that I found out about [the BIO Conference] when I did, and that I had a chance to go. It was invaluable, to the point that I think it changed my life, or at least changed the approach I’m making to it, since writing means so much to me.”

— David Steele