Awards

Castaneda Biographer Wins BIO’s Rowley Prize

thatch16.1Robert Marshall is the winner of BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize for 2016. The prize, awarded every two years, goes to the best proposal from a first-time biographer. Marshall is working on a biography of 1970s New Age guru Carlos Castenada, a project we featured in the March 2015 issue of TBC (you can read the article here). He will receive his prize at the BIO Conference luncheon on June 4 in Richmond, Virginia. The other finalists this year were Jessica Max Stein, who is working on a biography of puppeteer Richard Hunt, and Andrew Marble, who is writing a book on General John Shalikashvili.

Reacting to winning the prize, Marshall told TBC: “I’m so thrilled to receive the Hazel Rowley Prize. It could hardly have come at a better time. Working on this project has turned out to be a trek far longer than I ever imagined when I started. Although fascinating and deeply rewarding, telling the story of Castaneda has turned out to be a road strewn with seemingly endless obstacles. As I would guess is true in the writing of any biography, the journey has often felt exhausting and lonely. There are plenty of people who would prefer that this tale not be told. They haven’t hesitated to make this clear. Nothing could mean more to me at this juncture—as I begin to try to bring this book out into the world—than the interest, support, and encouragement of writers who have labored much longer than I have in this field.”

The first Rowley Prize winner, Holly Van Leuven, recently sold her biography on Ray Bolger to Oxford University Press. You can read her thoughts on winning the prize here.

The $2,000 Rowley Prize aims to help aspiring biographers by securing a careful reading of the winner’s book from at least one established agent; a year’s membership in BIO; and publicity through the BIO website, TBC, and other media. The prize is open to citizens or permanent residents of the United States and Canada, writing in English, 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. The prize is a way for BIO to advance its mission and extend its reach to talented new practitioners. The prize is named in memory of Hazel Rowley (1951–2011), born in London, educated in England and Australia, and a long-time resident of the United States. Hazel was a BIO enthusiast from its inception, understanding the need for biographers to help each other. You can read more about Rowley and the prize at the BIO website.

Finalists Announced for 2015 Plutarch Award

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BIO is proud to announce the four finalists for the 2015 Plutarch Award —  the world’s only literary award presented by biographers, to biography.

The four finalists for the 2015 Plutarch Award are (alphabetical by author):

  • The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon, 1952-1961 by Irwin F. Gellman (Yale)
  • Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock’n’Roll by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown)
  • Custer’s Trials:  A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles (Knopf)
  • Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan (Harper)

In February, BIO’s Plutarch Committee – an esteemed group of BIO members, chaired by biographer and historian Douglas Brinkley – kicked off this year’s Plutarch selection process by naming ten outstanding nominees.  (If you missed the announcement, you can see the list right here.)  And now, after further deliberation by the committee, that list has been winnowed down to the four finalists – one of which will be chosen as the Best Biography of 2015.

BIO members in good standing will now be asked to cast their vote for the Plutarch Award winner.  Voting will remain open until midnight on May 15, 2016, to give members plenty of time to read any of the four books before making a decision.

The winner will be announced on Saturday, June 4, at the Seventh Annual BIO Conference in Richmond, Virginia. (Still haven’t registered for the conference? You can do that right here.)

Tomalin Wins 2016 BIO Award

Claire-Tomalin- NEW 2011 - credit Angus Muir

Claire Tomalin (photo by Angus Muir)

Claire Tomalin, winner of multiple prizes for her literary biographies, is the winner of the seventh 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, and Taylor Branch.

Tomalin will receive the honor during the 2016 BIO Conference on June 4 at the Richmond Marriott Downtown in Richmond, Virginia, where she will deliver the keynote address. Tomalin first worked in publishing and journalism before turning to writing biography. In 1974, she published The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, which won the Whitbread First Book Prize. Her subjects have included Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jane Austen, and Thomas Hardy. Her 1991 book The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, won the NCR, Hawthornden, and James Tait Black prizes, and she also won several awards for her 2002 biography of Samuel Pepys, including the Whitbread Biography and Book of the Year prizes. Writing about her latest book,Charles Dickens: A Life (2011), the Guardian called it “flawless in its historical detail” and noted, “What is so valuable about this biography is the palpable sense of the man himself that emerges.”

Tomalin has honorary doctorates from Cambridge and many other universities, has served on the Committee of the London Library, is a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, and is a vice president of the Royal Literary Fund, the Royal Society of Literature, and English PEN.

 

Plutarch Award Nominees Announced

A distinguished panel of judges made up of members of Biographers International Organization (BIO) has selected ten nominees for the 2015 Plutarch Award. The Plutarch is the only international literary award presented to biography, by biographers.

Following the announcement of the ten nominees, BIO’s Plutarch Committee will next narrow the list to four finalists. BIO members around the world will vote for the winning biography from among these four distinguished books, honoring a writer who has achieved distinction in the art of biography.

This year’s ten nominees, in alphabetical order by title, are:

  • Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell (Viking)
  • Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles (Knopf)
  • Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal by Jay Parini (Doubleday)
  • Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne Heller (New Harvest)
  • Irrepressible: A Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham by Emily Bingham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage, by Betty Boyd Caroli (Simon & Schuster)
  • The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon 1952-1961,
       by Irwin F. Gellman (Yale)
  • Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter, by Cathy Curtis (Oxford)
  • Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll, by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown)
  • Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva,
        by Rosemary Sullivan (Harper)

BIO first presented the Plutarch Award in 2013. Previous winners, in chronological order, are:

  • Robert Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
  • Linda Leavell, Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore
  • Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.

You can find more information about the award and past nominees here.

The BIO Plutarch Award Committee members for 2016 are:

James Atlas
Douglas Brinkley, Chair
Catherine Clinton
Deirdre A. David
John Aloysius Farrell
Carla Kaplan
Eve LaPlante
J.W. Renders
Will Swift    

The winning biography will be announced at the 7th Annual BIO Conference on Saturday, June 4, in Richmond, Virginia.

Event Honors Segal, Explores the Biographer’s Craft

About 150 people from the publishing and cultural worlds of New York City turned out on November 4 to honor Jonathan Segal, winner of BIO’s second annual Editorial Excellence Award, and to hear some of the many biographers he’s worked with extol his dedication to his writers and the books they create.

BIO board member Will Swift acted as MC for the evening, and he began by noting the “extraordinary loyalty” Segal engenders in his writers. That loyalty is reflected in part by how long writers choose to stay with him. Panelists Paul Hendrickson, Eric Lax, and T. J. Stiles, along with moderator Kate Buford, have almost a century of combined experience working with Segal.

Panel Discussion
Before the panelists sung Segal’s praises, they addressed the issue, “How Do Great Biographies Get Made, and Why Do They Matter?” Buford began by asking the writers how they get their ideas. Stiles said he looks for strong stories that address some moral question of right and wrong. His subjects tend to be morally compromised in some way. Lax is drawn to people whose lives pose questions—questions he’s compelled to find answers to. He said the subject has to be someone “you’re willing to live with for the time it takes to do that.” Lax, whose subjects have included Woody Allen, also talked about the difference of writing about living and dead subjects. Since the former’s life is still unfolding, “You can be much more surprised by the living person than the dead person.”

For the process of writing, Hendrickson saw it as an act of discovery: “Where a book starts out is not where a book is going to end up.” Biographers need to be willing to follow where the story they uncover takes them, he said.

Of course, that process depends on what kinds of sources the biographer uncovers. While writing about Jesse James, Stiles had no diaries, no internal sources, to work with. For that kind of book, putting the subject in a historical context provided some of the plot. Writing about Cornelius Vanderbilt, many of Stiles’s sources stressed the subject’s business dealings, so that shaped the book. Stiles said, “Make a virtue out of what your material is.”

The panelists also examined the role of morality in capturing a persona. “Part of what moves me forward is trying to understand the underlying morality [of a subject],” Hendrickson said. Lax said one of his goals is to try to understand the person underneath the persona, their values and what drove them to live the life they did—“the intangible things that make a person a person.” The writer’s own sense of morality factors in, too. Stiles said writers should treat their subjects with “simple decency” and “honor the three dimensional humanity” even with subjects who commit bad acts.

Segal’s Influence
The panelists spent time discussing their lengthy relationships with Segal and what makes him such a great editor. Buford recounted Segal’s exhortation to “think harder” and to control tangents—bring the story back to the subject. Hendrickson described Segal’s role in helping him find the focus for his book on the civil rights era, Sons of Mississippi. Hendrickson also praised Segal for his patience and letting the author work at his own deliberate pace.

Segal doesn’t want to just help produce a book that will sell; he wants his authors to be better writers. Segal relies on an intuition that tells him something is wrong. To solve it, Stiles said, “He doesn’t tell me what I had to do, but where I had to do it.” Lax had a similar view: Segal wants to help authors produce the best book they can write.

The Editorial Excellence Award
As he introduced Carl Bernstein, who gave Segal his award, Swift condensed the thrust of the panelists’ comments into a simple observation: Segal “loves all authors.” Bernstein then described his relationship with Segal as the two of them worked on Bernstein’s biography of Hillary Clinton. Segal, with a background in journalism, knew the story was still unfolding, and he didn’t hector his author to speed up the writing process. Bernstein came to see that “Jon is interested, above all, in the truth. And the book isn’t there until he thinks you’ve reached the truth.”

Bernstein commented on the collaborative nature of working with Segal. He encourages authors to dig deeper, and then helps shapes the writing, but in the end, “it’s still your work, but you know it is your work that has come from a place you couldn’t have reached on your own.”

Accepting his award, Segal said he was deeply touched and humbled. He traced his career in publishing, starting as a journalist at the New York Times. He recounted reviewing a children’s book for his first assignment, and for another story, approving the headline “Man Kills Self, Then Wife.” An editor at the paper suggested, “The quality of your writing is such that you might want to try editing.” That comment set Segal off on the path that led him to touch the careers and lives of many biographers. The writers, he added, have enriched his life as well.

The evening’s event was coordinated by BIO board members Kate Buford, Gayle Feldman, Anne Heller, and Will Swift, and co-sponsored by the New York Society Library. A video of the complete ceremony is available on the library’s website.

 

Segal Receives Editorial Excellence Award

Jonathan Segal received the second annual BIO Editorial Excellence Award on November 4 at an event titled How Great Biographies Get Made and Why They Matter. Carl Bernstein presented Segal with the award, and the evening featured a panel discussion with several biographers who have worked with Segal. TBC will present highlights of that discussion and Segal and Bernstein’s remarks in the December issue. The event was co-sponsored by the New York Society Library.

A video of the evening is available here.

 

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Bernstein (right) presents the Editorial Excellence Award to Segal.

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Bernstein and Segal are joined by panelists Eric Lax, Paul Hendrickson, T. J. Stiles, and Kate Buford.

Jonathan Segal to Receive 2015 Editorial Excellence Award on November 4

BIO_Segal_WebJonathan Segal, editor of six Pulitzer-Prize winning books, will receive BIO’s second annual Editorial Excellence Award on Wednesday, November 4, at a special event, “How Great Biographies Get Made and Why They Matter.” Segal and five esteemed biographers who have worked with him will explore how major biographical works are conceived and crafted, and how a gifted editor can make the difference between a good biography and a great work that has a significant impact.

Presenting the award to Segal, a vice president and senior editor at Knopf, will be Carl Bernstein, journalist and author of the best-selling biography of Hillary Clinton, A Woman in Charge.

The evening also includes a panel discussion with:

  • Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway’s Boat and a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and two Heartland Awards
  • Eric Lax, former president of PEN USA, a BIO Advisory Council member, and the author of Woody Allen
  • T.J. Stiles, another BIO Advisory Council member and winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award and the author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the new Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America
  • Panel moderator Kate Buford, BIO Board member and the author of Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe and Burt Lancaster: An American Life, both edited by Mr. Segal.

Light refreshments will be served, and the books listed here are available for purchase prior to the event at the Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Avenue at 93rd Street. Books will not be sold at the event.

The event is at Temple Israel, 112 East 75th Street (Park/Lexington), New York, and begins at 6:30 pm. It is open to the public and tickets are $35. They can be purchased here.

This celebration of Mr. Segal’s editorial career was planned by Kate Buford, Gayle Feldman, Anne Heller, and Will Swift and is co-sponsored by the New York Society Library.

 

Lee’s Biography of Penelope Fitzgerald Wins Plutarch Award

Among Lee's other books is Biography: A Very Short Introduction.

Among Lee’s other books is Biography: A Very Short Introduction.

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee won the Plutarch Award for best biography of 2014, as selected by members of Biographers International Organization. The winning book was announced at the Sixth Annual BIO Conference in Washington, DC.

I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded this prize, especially when I look at the competition! said Dame Hermione Lee when she heard the news. President of Wolfson College, Oxford, England, Lee was not present at the announcement of the winner.
The three Plutarch finalists were:
  • The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandria by Helen Rappaport
  • The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 by Nigel Hamilton
  • Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr

Named after the ancient Greek biographer, the prize is the genre’s equivalent of the Oscar, in that BIO members chose the winner by secret ballot from nominees selected by a committee of distinguished members of the craft. This year marked the third time BIO bestowed the award. Previous winners were Linda Leavell for Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore and Robert Caro for The Passage of Power.