Photo: Stuart Clarke
British author Richard Holmes, beloved for his biographies and memoirs about writing biography, is the winner of the ninth annual BIO Award. BIO bestows this honor on a colleague who has made a major contribution to the advancement of the art and craft of biography. Previous award winners are Jean Strouse, Robert Caro, Arnold Rampersad, Ron Chernow, Stacy Schiff, Taylor Branch, Claire Tomalin, and Candice Millard. Holmes will receive the honor on May 19, at the 2018 BIO Conference at the Leon Levy Center, City University of New York, where he will deliver the keynote address.
Holmes’s The Age of Wonder was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, and won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. He has written many other books, including Falling Upwards, an uplifting account of the pioneering generation of balloon aeronauts, and the classicFootsteps. Its companion volumes, Sidetracks and This Long Pursuit, complete a trilogy that explores the Romantic movement biographer at work. Holmes’s first biography, Shelley: The Pursuit, won the Somerset Maugham Prize; Coleridge: Early Visions won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Award; Coleridge: Darker Reflections won the Duff Cooper and Heinemann Awards; and Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage won the James Tait Black Prize.
Holmes holds honorary doctorates from the universities of East Anglia, East London, and Kingston, and was professor of biographical studies at the University of East Anglia from 2001 to 2007. He is an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, a Fellow of the British Academy, and was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1992. He lives in London and Norfolk, with the novelist Rose Tremain. TBC will have an interview with Holmes in an upcoming issue.
BIO’s Plutarch Award Committee has chosen the four books highlighted below as the finalists for this year’s Plutarch Award, the only international literary award for a biography that is chosen by fellow biographers. BIO members will have three months to read the finalists and vote for the winner. The Plutarch Award will be presented on Saturday, May 19, at the Ninth Annual BIO Conference in New York.
To see a list of the nominees for 2018 and learn more about the Plutarch Award, go here.
Ali: A Life, by Jonathan Eig, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Eig interviewed nearly everyone still living who knew Muhammed Ali, including his ex-wives, and crafted those interviews, along with much additional primary source material, into a deft, enlightening, and enlivening narrative of the life of an American icon.
Richard Nixon: The Life, by John A. Farrell, Doubleday: In an elegantly written, expertly researched, and commanding narrative of the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, John A. Farrell has created in a single volume a rich and deeply affecting portrait of perhaps the most complex, fascinating, and darkest of American presidents.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser, Metropolitan: Fraser’s work is both a haunting depiction of Laura Ingall Wilder’s life, work, and collaboration with her flamboyant, unstable daughter, the writer Rose Wilder Lane, and a surprising history of how the pioneer experience led to American conservative values. Fraser demonstrates that literary history is woven into the very fabric and destiny of the nation.
Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror, by Victor Sebestyen, Pantheon: The first major biography in English of Vladimir Lenin in twenty years, Victor Sebestyen’s riveting work draws on newly available archives and the author’s gift for sustaining a highly suspenseful narrative to present a far-reaching and very human portrait of the father of the Russian Communist state.
By Dona Munker, TBC New York Correspondent
Cathy Curtis presents the Editorial Excellence Award to Robert Weil.
On November 8, Robert Weil, editor-in-chief and publishing director of Liveright, an imprint of W. W. Norton, received BIO’s fourth annual Editorial Excellence Award. He joins Nan A. Talese, Jonathan Segal, and Robert Gottlieb, as winners of this honor. Introduced by one of his authors, Thomas Jefferson biographer Annette Gordon-Reed, Weil said that he thinks he may have become an editor because editing fulfills “a yearning to rescue and nurture.” The evening, which also included a panel discussion, was cosponsored by the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Follow this link to view his speech and hear Gordon-Reed and five other biographers Weil nurtured share what makes an editor legendary.
Attendees at the event included, from left to right: Kai Bird, Will Swift, Julia Reidhead, Linda Gordon, Ruth Franklin, Annette Gordon-Reed, David Levering Lewis, Robert Weil, Yunte Huang, and Max Boot.
Karen Adler Abramson and the staff at the John F. Kennedy Library
Archives received their 2017 Biblio Award last month from BIO’s James
McGrath Morris. From left to right, the honorees are Laurie Austin,
Textual/Audiovisual Reference Archivist; Maryrose Grossman, Audiovisual
Reference Archivist; Stacey Chandler, Textual Reference Archivist; and
Karen Adler Abramson, Director of Archives. The Biblio Award is presented
annually to recognize a librarian or archivist who has made an exceptional
contribution to the craft of biography.
In honor of the work of Robert and Ina Caro, Biographers International Organization has set up an annual research and travel fellowship. BIO members with a work in progress can apply to receive funding for research trips to archives or to important settings in their subject’s lives. This fellowship is a reflection of BIO’s ongoing commitment to support authors in writing beautifully contextualized and tenaciously researched biographies.
The Caro Research/Travel Fellowship is restricted to support of works of biography, e.g., not of history, autobiography, or memoir. The application deadline is February 1, 2018. In the spring of 2018, BIO will award either one $5,000 or two $2,500 fellowships, based on the judgment of the following panel: Kate Buford, Deirdre David, and Marc Leepson.
To apply, go here.
BIO is now accepting applications for the 2018 Hazel Rowley Prize. The aim of this prize is to help a first-time biographer of real promise in four ways: through funding (the $2,000 prize); by securing a careful reading from at least one established agent; a year’s membership in Biographers International Organization (BIO); and publicity through the BIO website and The Biographer’s Craft newsletter, among other outlets.
The prize is named in memory of Hazel Rowley (1951–2011), who was born in London, educated in England and Australia, and was a longtime resident of the United States. A BIO enthusiast from its inception, Hazel understood the need for biographers to help each other. The prize named for her will be given for the fourth time at the next BIO conference, in late spring 2018. Judges for the 2018 prize are the distinguished biographers Stacy Schiff and James Atlas.
The prize is open to citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. and Canada who write in English, are working on a biography that has not been commissioned, contracted, or self-published, and who have never published a biography, history, or work of narrative nonfiction. Biography, as defined for this prize, is a narrative of an individual’s life. Although, group biographies and innovative ways of treating lives will be considered. To apply, click here. The deadline for entries is March 1, 2018.
Responding to the recent trend of awarding the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography to authors of memoirs, Biography International Organization has written to Pulitzer Prize administrator, Mike Pride, asking that the board overseeing the Pulitzer Prizes to create a separate category for biography and a new category for autobiography and memoir. Pride recently left his position but turned over the letter to Dana Canedy, his replacement as administrator.
In a letter signed by BIO Board president Will Swift and Advisory Committee chair Debby Applegate, BIO specifically asked the Pulitzer Prize Board to do the following:
(1) review the recent history of the prize for “Biography or Autobiography”;
(2) consider biographies on their own merits and thus as their own unique prize category;
(3) consolidate autobiography and memoir into a new and distinct category.
TBC first addressed this issue in June, when James McGrath Morris interviewed David Nasaw on the topic. Nasaw, chair of the Pulitzer Prize Biography/Autobiography Committee in 2015, and a two-time finalist for the Biography Pulitzer prize, said, “It was our understanding that a memoir is a piece of a life, a moment of a life, a part of a life, and it is not documented. There is no corroborating material, there are no additional interviews, there are no newspaper articles, and there is no context provided. A memoir is a work—as the title makes clear—of memory. Autobiography and biographies are not works of memory.”
Commenting on BIO’s effort, Swift said, “I am grateful to Cathy Curtis, Steve Weinberg, Jamie Morris, Brian Jones and most of all Debby Applegate for helping me think through the complex issues we present to new Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy. I look forward to hearing from her and we would be delighted to meet with her and other representatives of the Pulitzer board.”
The entire letter is reprinted here.
Ruth Franklin received the 2017 Plutarch Award from Plutarch Award Committee chair John A. Farrell.
Ruth Franklin won the 2017 Plutarch Award for Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Members of Biographers International Organization selected the winning book, which was announced at the Eighth Annual BIO Conference on May 20 at Emerson College in Boston. The Shirley Jackson bio had previously won several other honors, most notably the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography.
Offering her thanks for the award, Franklin said, “It’s really humbling to receive an award named after Plutarch.” She said that before this year’s event in Boston, she looked back at her notes from past conferences and realized how much she had learned from so many of the people with her in the room. Being part of BIO and a women’s biographers group in New York has shown her, “We aren’t in any way alone in what we do.”
At her first BIO Conference in 2014, Franklin said, she was too shy and intimidated to introduce herself to the big-name biographers she found herself surrounded by; she just “gazed adoringly” at Stacy Schiff, that year’s BIO Award winner, which Franklin joked might have led Schiff to believe she was a stalker. Now, Franklin is preparing an interview with Schiff for the Paris Review. She said she and Schiff discussed how there’s no instruction manual for biographers, everyone approaches the craft a little differently, and that biographers “all have to learn from each other.”
The Plutarch Award Committee originally chose ten semi-finalists before selecting four finalists for the 2017 prize. The other finalists were:
- Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey by Frances Wilson
- Hitler: Ascent, 1889–1939 by Volker Ullrich, translated by Jefferson Chase
- Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas
You can see the complete list of this year’s semi-finalists and past winners here