The Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship

$2000 for an Exceptional Biography-in-progress About an African American Subject

The Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship awards $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. This fellowship also provides the recipient with a year’s membership in BIO, registration to the annual BIO Conference, and publicity through BIO’s marketing channels.

The Rollin Fellowship aims to remediate the disproportionate scarcity and even suppression of Black lives and voices in the broad catalog of published biography. This fellowship reflects not only BIO’s commitment to supporting working biographers but to encouraging diversity in the field.

Frances “Frank” Rollin (1845-1901)

The Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship for African American Biography is named for the first known African American biographer and is awarded to promote biographies of African American lives.

The fellowship’s namesake, Frances Anne Rollin Whipper — who wrote under her nickname-turned-pen name “Frank A. Rollin” — was a 19th century author and activist. Her groundbreaking 1868 biography, Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany, about a Black abolitionist journalist, physician and Union Army officer, positioned her as the first recorded African American biographer. Reception to her book in the Black press underscored the significance of her precedent and called for more biographies of African Americans. This fellowship, in her honor, seeks to carry on that call.

In the spirit of Rollin’s achievement, BIO’s Rollin Fellowship aims to foster the development of biographical works that encourage deeper insight into the complexity of race relations at the bedrock of American history. This fellowship will support any biography that highlights the Black experience in the Americas, and that is set within the vast time period between (and even before) 1619 and the present. It will support any aspect of African American inhabitancy, dispersion, immigration or emigration. It will support biographies of Black lives often marginalized by gender, gender-orientation, sexuality or disability.

The Fellowship will be given for the second time in May 2022. Judges for the 2022 prize are distinguished biographers Eric K. Washington, chair; Tamara Payne; and Adam Henig. The first winner is Rachel L. Swarms for her multigenerational biography of an enslaved Black family torn apart by the 1838 slave sale that saved Georgetown University from financial ruin.


The fellowship is open to all biographers anywhere in the world who are writing in English, who are working on a biography of an African American figure (or figures), and who are at any stage in the writing of a book-length biography. A publishing contract is not required for eligibility. Biography as defined for this prize is a narrative of an individual’s life or the story of a group of lives. Innovative ways of treating a life (or lives) will be considered at the committee’s discretion. Memoirs are not eligible.


Complete the online entry form. (Please note that the form can be tricky. When filling out one’s address, for example, “city” and “state” go in the boxes above the words, not below.)

Upload the following submission materials in a single document:

  • Project description (500 words or less): provide a synopsis of the biography and explain how this biographical work fits into the mission of the Rollin Fellowship
  • Statement of need (500 words or less): describe where you are in the process of writing and how you and your work would benefit from the Rollin Fellowship; if your work is not yet under contract, please include your plans for publication
  • Author bio (500 words or less)
  • Excerpt from your manuscript (no more than 20 pages)

Your document should be double-spaced, with 12-point type and standard margins. The document must be a PDF.

Sign the online entry form by checking the box affirming your understanding of the rules and procedures.

There is no application fee for this fellowship.

You will receive an acknowledgment of your entry within several days. If you do not, please contact Michael Gately.


The deadline for entries is March 1, 2022. Receipt of all applications will be acknowledged by email. The fellowship winner will be announced by early May. Formal announcement of the winner will be made at the annual conference.   

In submitting this prize entry form, you agree to all the terms and conditions of the BIO Rollin Fellowship You also affirm that the work you are submitting is in progress and will not be in production at the time of the annual BIO conference.  Only one entry per applicant is allowed. In submitting this entry form, you affirm that you are the sole author (or, if co-authored, authors) of the work being submitted. In the event that you are the winner, you affirm that you will make your best effort to publish your work, and that you will acknowledge the support of BIO’s Rollin Fellowship upon publication. All decisions by the judges are final.


Does memoir qualify?
No, it does not. 

Do I have to be a member of BIO when I apply?
You do not have to be a member when you apply, but we would be pleased if you joined.

Am I eligible if I write young adult biographies?

Am I eligible if I am represented by an agent or if my biography is under contract for publication?

Am I eligible if my biography is not under contract?
Yes. We simply ask that you include in your application (see “Statement of Need,” above) a description of your plans for publication. 

Can you explain what you mean by “African American” and the “Black experience”?
Geographically speaking, the African American or Black American experience includes any account of a person or people of African descent whose lives were centered within (or shaped by) “the Americas” – North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean – dating from the early 17th century (and even before) through the present day. African American and Black American are terms that are often used interchangeably.

May a biographer of any background apply?
The Rollin Fellowship is open to all biographers writing about African American subjects.

For further questions, contact Michael Gately.


Marion Orr

Photo credit: Ellen Dessloch

For his proposed biography of former U.S. Congressman Charles Diggs Jr.


Rachel L. Swarns

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.