David Levering Lewis Looks at Two Black American Leaders in BIO Conference Keynote

After receiving the 2021 BIO Award from Pamela Newkirk, David Levering Lewis spoke on “Black Biography Matters: A Prophet and A President.” The prophet was W. E. B. Du Bois, the subject of Levering’s two-volume, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The president was Barack Obama. Levering started his talk by giving a mini-bio of an unnamed figure: A biracial American who did not face the extreme discrimination other Blacks did, thanks in part to having one white… Read More »

BIO Honors Award Winners at Conference

As it does every year, BIO recognized the winners of several awards on the first day of its 2021 virtual conference. The presentations and winners’ remarks were prerecorded; winners of all but two of the awards had already been announced. You can see a video of the award presentations here. Shepard Service Award On the video, attendees learned that Sonja D. Williams was the winner of the Ray A. Shepard Service Award, given to… Read More »

A. N. Wilson Wins 2021 Plutarch Award

A. N. Wilson’s The Mystery of Charles Dickens (HarperCollins) has won the 2021 Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2020. Wilson is a prolific writer, whose previous books include biographies of Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, C. S. Lewis, and Queen Elizabeth II, among many others. He is also a prize-winning novelist. Named after the famous Greek writer, BIO awards the Plutarch to the best biography of the year, chosen by a committee of five… Read More »

Four Win Chip Bishop Fellowships

Gabriella Marie Kelly-Davies, Paula Broussard, Trina Young, and Helen Bain are the winners of this year’s Chip Bishop Fellowships. Each will have the fee waived for the upcoming BIO Conference, held online May 14-16. Kelly-Davies is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sydney. Broussard is a freelance writer from Los Angeles. Young, from Maryland, writes about popular music. Bain is a Ph.D. candidate at King’s College, London. The Chip Bishop Fellowship was established by… Read More »

Rachel L. Swarns Wins Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship

Rachel L. Swarns is the winner of the 2021 Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship for her proposal of an as yet untitled, multigenerational biography of an enslaved Black family torn apart by the 1838 slave sale that saved Georgetown University from financial ruin. The committee was impressed by Swarns’s lucid, engaging narrative as she highlighted slavery’s devastating impact on a family fatefully separated when “the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests sold 272 enslaved men, women and… Read More »

Need Help Paying the BIO Conference Fee? Apply for the Chip Bishop Fellowship

Honoring the late Chip Bishop, a former BIO Board member, this fellowship for biographers-in-need covers the annual conference fee. For 2021 only, there will be 10 Chip Bishop Fellowships offered. Students and other aspiring biographers in financial need are encouraged to apply. (If a winner has already paid for the conference, the fee will be refunded.) To apply, please respond to the four questions listed under How to Apply. The deadline is May 1, Read More »

Afridi, Dunkle Win 2021 Caro Fellowships

Humera Afridi and Iris Jamahl Dunkle are the 2021 winners of BIO’s Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship. Afridi, a New York-based writer of Pakistani origin, is working on The Book of Secrets: The Extraordinary Life of Noor Inayat Khan, a biography of a World War II heroine, mystic, poet, author, and musician. Khan was an Indian American woman who posthumously became a renowned and decorated war hero for her role in guerrilla tactics… Read More »

BIO Announces Finalists for Plutarch Award

Biographies of Malcolm X, Jimmy Carter, and Charles Dickens are in the running for the 2021 Plutarch Award, which will go to the best biography of 2020, as chosen by  a distinguished panel of BIO members. The winner will be announced on May 16 during the 11th BIO Conference. You can see the five finalists as well as the other five books that made the longlist for the award, here.… Read More »

BIO Hosts Online Event with Peniel E. Joseph

Peniel E. Joseph discussed his The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. in a conversation with author and poet Ed Pavlic. You can see a video of the conversation here. Members of the Biographers’ Circle generously donated to this fundraising event. Gayfryd Steinberg, a member of BIO’s Advisory Council, and her husband Michael Shnayerson organized this philanthropic group in 2019 to support BIO’s fellowships and… Read More »

Tanya Paperny Wins Hazel Rowley Prize

Tanya Paperny is the 2021 winner of BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize for her proposal for Tender/Fierce: The Life and Death of My Revolutionary Prababushka. The committee was impressed by Paperny’s gripping prose about an important story of political tyranny that has been little told from a biographical perspective. “In 1938, my great-grandmother Tatiana Ivanovna Shatalova-Rabinovich was executed by the Soviet secret police and dumped in a mass grave where hundreds would soon lie,” Paperny writes.… Read More »

BIO Zoom Workshop: Biography and Storytelling – A Conversation with Candice Millard

How do biographers create compelling narratives from the facts of history? In her captivating slice-of-life biographies, BIO Award winner Candice Millard shows us how it’s done, with stirring and highly effective results. In this BIO workshop, which you can see here, Candice spoke about her passion for research and her disciplined approach to crafting narrative biography in a conversation with BIO President Linda Leavell. Biographers at any level of experience can admire and learn… Read More »

BIO Conference Preview: Writing the First Biography of Your Subject: A Q&A with Debby Applegate and Abigail Santamaria

Debby Applegate is the author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (Doubleday, 2006), winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography; and Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age (forthcoming from Doubleday, November 2, 2021). Abigail Santamaria is the author of Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), and I Am Meg: The Life of Madeleine… Read More »

BIO Announces Longlist for Plutarch Award

A distinguished panel of judges composed of BIO members has selected 10 nominees for the 9th annual Plutarch Award, which is the only international literary award for biography judged exclusively by biographers. “The 2020 Plutarch Committee was well aware that we were judging last year’s biographies during a year like no other,”  says Kate Buford, Plutarch Award Committee Chair. “The books under consideration had not only to be stellar examples of the craft of biography,… Read More »

BIO Zoom Workshop: Biography of Science, Medicine, and Innovation

What particular challenges and opportunities lie in writing about the lives of pioneers in the fields of science, medicine, and technology? Three distinguished panelists share their experiences, ranging from making technical information accessible to general and young adult audiences, to debunking “racial champion” myths and revealing “warts-and-all” about legendary subjects. Watch a video of the workshop here. Panelists: Rayvon Fouché is Professor of American Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University.… Read More »

David Levering Lewis Wins 2021 BIO Award

By Kitty Kelley David Levering Lewis is the winner of the 12th BIO Award. This prize is bestowed annually to a distinguished colleague who has made major contributions to the advancement of the art and craft of biography. Lewis, 85, an American historian, is the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University. He is the first author to have won two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography for his successive volumes on… Read More »

BIO Workshop on Biography of Creation

Biography of Creation: Writing about Artists, Musicians and Culture Three biographers with a tantalizing variety of books discuss the special challenges associated with writing about artists and other creative talents. Watch a video of the event here. They address topics of use to any veteran or aspiring biographer, but also focus on writing with authority on the arts and cultural history. Who are you writing for and how technical should your language be? How… Read More »

First-time Biographers Can Apply for Hazel Rowley Prize

BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize is given to the author of an exceptional book proposal for a full-length biography. In addition to a $2,000 award, the winner will have their proposal evaluated by an established literary agent. They will also receive a year’s membership in BIO, along with registration for the annual BIO Conference, and publicity for the author and project through the BIO website, The Biographer’s Craft newsletter, and social media. The prize is part… Read More »

Call for Submissions for the Rollin Fellowship

BIO Virtual Workshop: BIO’s Coaches Answer First-Time Biographers’ Questions about Proposal Writing and Promotion

Three accomplished biographers who have worked with other writers to help bring their biographies to life answered questions about proposal writing and promotion. You see the video here. Moderator: Marlene Trestman is the author of Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin, and is now writing Most Fortunate Unfortunates: New Orleans’s Jewish Orphans’ Home, 1855-1946 for LSU Press. The former Special Assistant to Maryland’s Attorney… Read More »

BIO Honors Gayatri Patnaik

On November 9, BIO hosted a virtual event honoring Gayatri Patnaik, winner of the 2020 Editorial Excellence Award. Taking part were three of her authors: Imani Perry, Marcus Rediker, and Jeanne Theoharis, along with literary agent Tanya McKinnon. You can see a video of the event here.  Patnaik is Associate Director and Editorial Director of Beacon Press, where for 18 years she has edited and published many books on race, ethnicity, and immigration. A… Read More »

BIO Workshop: Coaches Answer First-Time Biographers’ Questions about Research and Writing

If  you missed this live Zoom workshop, you can watch the video here. Three accomplished biographers who have worked with other BIO members to help bring their biographies to life answer questions about research and writing. Panelists: Kate Buford, Carl Rollyson, and Carol Sklenicka Moderator: Anne Boyd Rioux… Read More »

BIO Announces New Fellowship in Support of African American Lives

By Eric K. Washington, with Sarah Kilborne, Anne Boyd Rioux, and Sonja Williams BIO is pleased to announce the new Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship for African American Biography. The Rollin Fellowship will award $2,000 to an author working on a biographical work about an African American figure (or figures) whose story provides a significant contribution to our understanding of the Black experience. The deadline for applications is February 1, 2021. The Rollin Fellowship is… Read More »

On Being “Frank”

By Eric K. Washington One could say Carole Ione, also known professionally as IONE—a playwright, poet, diarist, and frequent co-creator with her longtime spouse, the late composer Pauline Oliveros —has grown accustomed to long waits. As chair of BIO’s Black Lives Matter Committee, I recently had the privilege of informing Ione that Frances Anne Rollin Whipper (1845–1901) would be the namesake of a new $2,000 fellowship next spring, to be offered for a biography-in-progress of… Read More »

Biographies Live on Despite COVID

COVID-19 has upset publishers’ schedules for releasing new books, which might explain the large number of notable biographies coming out in the last few months of 2020 (some were postponed from spring releases). Traditional cradle-to-grave works, group biographies, and books about “hidden figures” are among the books generating interest among media outlets, before their fall and winter publication. We’re highlighting here just some of the books likely to garner critical and popular attention, because of… Read More »

Fair Use: Q&A with the Experts

On June 9, Brandon Butler and Peter Jaszi took part in a virtual workshop for BIO on fair use for biographers. Here, Butler and Jaszi answer two follow-up questions on the topic. You can see a recording of the workshop here, and read BIO’s Statement on Best Practices regarding fair use here Q: Taking into account fair use doctrine, when do we—and when don’t we—have to pay licensing fees in order to use… Read More »

BIO Workshop: Agents Discuss the State of the Publishing Industry

You can see a video of this workshop here. Three agents discuss the state of the publishing industry during the pandemic, particularly for biography and related nonfiction, as well as the agent-author relationship. Faith Childs is President of Faith Childs Literary Agency in New York and represents novelists and nonfiction writers, including biographers, historians, critics and journalists. For three decades she has been actively engaged in efforts to increase the representation of people of… Read More »

Race, Racism, and Biography

Black Lives Matter to BIO

During this historic summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter is garnering support nationally and internationally. For biographers and readers of biography, black lives matter, and writing black lives matters. Six BIO members will contribute essays to the July issue of The Biographer’s Craft about black lives, racism, and how they relate to biography. Here, in the meantime, are biographies of African-Americans by BIO members. Alexandrov, Vladimir. The Black Russian, 2013. Bell-Scott, Patricia. The Firebrand Read More »

BIO Workshop: Living Subjects

On Wednesday, June 24, BIO presents “Living on the Edge: Writing Biography of a Living Subject.”  Kai Bird (author of a forthcoming biography of President Jimmy Carter), David Greenberg (John Lewis), and Will Swift (Joan Baez) will talk about the the craft of writing an authorized or unauthorized life of a living subject. This form of biography requires juggling the skills of a journalist (tracking down key sources and interviewing them) and a historian (doing… Read More »

BIO Welcomes New Board Members and a New Vice President

By Linda Leavell BIO members recently elected a new vice president, Sarah Kilborne, and three new board members: Natalie Dykstra, Steve Paul, and Eric K. Washington. Like BIO’s membership at large, members of BIO’s Board of Directors come from diverse backgrounds and practice the art of biography in multiple print and non-print media. Sarah Kilborne has chaired BIO’s Publicity and Social Media Committee for the past two years. Thanks to her initiative and enthusiasm for… Read More »

BIO Workshop: Making Full Use of Fair Use

You can see a video of this workshop here. This meeting is free and open to all who register.  Fair use—the right of biographers and other writers, under limited conditions, to quote, paraphrase, summarize, and reproduce the copyrighted words and images of our subjects and others, without paying fees—is embedded in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. Our distinguished panel of experts cuts through the almost universal confusion about fair use to illuminate this… Read More »

BIO Workshop: Promoting Your Book During the Pandemic 

This meeting is free and open to all who register. May 27, 2020 01:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada) Jennifer Richards and Rachel Tarlow Gul from Over the River Public Relations will share what they have learned about how book promotion is changing during the COVID-19 pandemic. They will share their insights and strategies and explain the role of a publicist and how to hire one. Former Random House, Inc. executives, Richards and… Read More »

Sonia Purnell Wins 2020 Plutarch Award

Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (Viking/Penguin) has won the 2020 Plutarch Award for the Best Biography of 2019. The Plutarch is the world’s only literary award given to biographers by biographers. Named after the famous Greek writer, BIO awards the honor to the best biography of the year, chosen by a committee of five distinguished biographers. The award comes with… Read More »

Jay Prosser Wins Hazel Rowley Prize

Jay Prosser is the 2020 winner of BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize for his proposal for Empire’s Loving Strangers: Journeys Through an Asian-Jewish Camphorwood Chest, a biography that explores one Jewish family’s experiences and connections across empires and centuries. Prosser is a reader in humanities at the University of Leeds in England, where he has taught since 1999. His book was previously shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize for the best unpublished biography, which is… Read More »

BIO Announces Winners of Caro Fellowships

BIO’s Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship Committee (Deirdre David, Marc Leepson, and Steve Paul) is pleased to announce the selection of the 2020 winners: Lance Richardson and Lynne Bermont. Richardson, who lives in Austin, Texas, is working on True Nature: The Pilgrimage of Peter Matthiessen (under contract to Knopf/Pantheon [US] and Chatto & Windus [UK]). The $2,500 award will enable him to travel to Dolpo, in remote Nepal, the landscape that inspired Mattheissen’s best-known… Read More »

Mayborn/BIO Fellow Looks at Two Subjects, Two Cultures

Working on a dual biography of a relative who crossed paths with the Chiricahua Apache chief Geronimo, Morgan Voeltz has faced several challenges. She has also come to a conclusion that is probably familiar to many biographers: “Neither of these characters is entirely a hero,” she said, “and neither is entirely a villain.” Voeltz spoke about her experience working on the biography (her first), at a talk on February 20, at the Women’s International Study… Read More »

New Hidden Figures Fellowship Replaces Mayborn/BIO Fellowship

James McGrath Morris, the driving force behind the Mayborn/BIO Fellowship, is helping to launch a new fellowship program to assist aspiring authors working on a book about a lesser-known figure who merits a biography. The Santa Fe Hidden Figures Fellowship will provide a grant of $1,000, a two-week stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in a casita at the historic Acequia Madre House in cooperation with the Women’s International Studies Center (WISC), dinner five nights… Read More »

BIO Announces Finalists for 2020 Plutarch Award

BIO’s Plutarch Award Committee has chosen five finalists for the 2020 Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2019.  The selected titles include the third book in a multi-volume biography of Lincoln, a look at the lives of renegade anthropologists, and the story of an American spy during World War II. “It’ been a remarkable year for biography,” said Caroline Fraser, Plutarch Award Committee Chair. The finalists have emerged from an exceptional long list that… Read More »

Bio Announces Longlist for 2020 Plutarch Award

BIO’s Plutarch Award jury has nominated 10 books for the Plutarch Award, honoring the best biography of 2019. The Plutarch is the only international literary award judged and presented by biographers. BIO’s Plutarch jury will choose five finalists from the longlist and announce the winner on May 16 at the 11th Annual BIO Conference in New York. This year’s nominees, in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, are: All the Powers of Earth: Read More »

BIO Hires Michael Gately as Executive Director

BIO’s Board of Directors has hired Michael Gately to serve as the organization’s executive director. His duties include working with BIO’s Program Committee to organize the annual conference; working with other committees to publicize and administer BIO’s various awards; and assisting the board with administrative responsibilities. Gately assumed his new, part-time job on January 6, 2020. A graduate of Princeton University, Gately has wide experience in publishing and education. His previous positions include being the… Read More »

What’s Love Got to Do with It? A Passionate Biographer Talks about Getting to Know Her Subject

By Dona Munker, New York Correspondent Every serious biographer knows that only the most intense engagement with a subject can compel the writer to spend years in the archives and construct a narrative that has the energy it needs to carry both writer and reader across the finish line. Which is why, as Janice P. Nimura suggested to an audience at the City University of New York Graduate Center in October, biographers always long to… Read More »

Ileene Smith Receives 2019 Editorial Excellence Award

Ileene Smith, winner of BIO’s 2019 Editorial Excellence Award, received her award on November 13 at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Smith has been vice president and executive editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux since 2012. She is also editorial director of the Jewish Lives series published by Yale University Press and the Leon D. Black Foundation. Smith has previously been the recipient of the… Read More »

Hermione Lee Wins 2020 BIO Award

By Justin Spring Dame Hermione Lee, Emeritus Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford, is the winner of the 11th annual BIO Award, a prize bestowed yearly by the Biographers International Organization to a distinguished colleague who has made a major contribution to the advancement of the art and craft of biography. Lee will receive the honor on May 16, at the 2020 BIO Conference at the Graduate Center of the City University of New… Read More »

BIO, Other Organizations Issue Statement on Fair Use

By Kai Bird Perhaps a biographer’s worst nightmare is to be told by his or her publisher’s lawyers that he or she cannot quote from all those colorful diaries and letters and must instead rewrite his or her manuscript so as to only paraphrase or summarize these sources. This happened to Ian Hamilton in 1986, when he was sued by the subject of his biography, J. D. Salinger. Random House compelled Hamilton to rewrite his… Read More »

A Tribute to James Atlas (1949–2019)

By Anne C. Heller He could be seen among gatherings of biographers wherever we meet: at festivals and symposia, on prize committees, at literary parties, leading panels of his distinguished friends in explorations of their craft, gallantly introducing new biographers to colleagues and readers with a keen and generous word of praise. His standards were old fashioned, unusually high, and deeply literary, and his praise will be remembered and cherished by the unknowable number of… Read More »

First-time Biographers, Apply Now for the Rowley Prize!

Biographers International Organization (BIO) is now accepting applications for the Hazel Rowley Prize. The prize rewards a biography book proposal from a first-time biographer with: funding (a $2,000 award); a careful reading from an established agent; one year’s membership in BIO (along with registration to the annual conference); and publicity for the author and project through the BIO website, The Biographer’s Craft newsletter, etc. The prize is a way for BIO—an organization of biographers, agents,… Read More »

Sign Up for the New BIO Quarterly Newsletter

Have you signed up to receive The Latest News in Biography quarterly newsletter? You can read the premiere September 2019 issue here. We hope you will share the newsletter with your colleagues and readers. Please subscribe here. Do you have biography news you would like to share for future newsletters? Let us know!… Read More »

Ileene Smith Wins Editorial Excellence Award

Ileene Smith is the winner of the 2019 Editorial Excellence Award, given each year by BIO to an outstanding editor, from nominations submitted by BIO members. Smith has been vice president and executive editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux since 2012. She is also editorial director of the Jewish Lives series published by Yale University Press and the Leon D. Black Foundation. Smith has previously been the recipient of the PEN/Roger Klein Award, the Tony… Read More »

Morgan Voeltz Swanson Wins Mayborn Fellowship

Morgan Voeltz Swanson won the Biography Fellowship awarded annually at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, held in July at the University of North Texas. The fellowship is cosponsored by BIO and BIO co-founder James McGrath Morris. With her fellowship, Swanson receives a two- to three-week residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and mentoring from Morris during her stay. In addition, she will receive complimentary admission to the 2020 BIO Conference and a $500 stipend. During… Read More »

Video Highlights from the 2019 BIO Conference

Here are some highlights from the 2019 BIO Conference, held in New York City on May 17-19. You can see the morning plenary with David Remnick, Stacy Schiff, and Judith Thurman, and Nigel Hamilton introducing 2019 BIO Award winner James McGrath Morris, who gave the keynote speech.… Read More »