2021 BIO Conference

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BIO welcomes biographers, editors, agents, publishers, and publicity professionals from across the nation and around the world to the 11th Biographers International Organization Conference, being held virtually for the first time. BIO is honored to again partner with the Leon Levy Center for Biography at The Graduate Center, CUNY, for this event.

Registration is through Eventbrite, and all live and prerecorded events will be held via Zoom. During the conference, video links will be accessible only on the Eventbrite ticket receipt page, which you can access here.

Register Now!

About the Conference

The conference will take place on Friday, May 14, through Sunday, May 16. Fees for the conference are $49 for members and $99 for non-members. All times listed are New York (Eastern Daylight) time. Panels and roundtables are live and take place in real time. Other events are prerecorded and may be watched at your convenience, as indicated. The panels will also be recorded and available to conference participants a week or two after the conference itself.

Friday’s events begin with a welcome by BIO President Linda Leavell and Kai Bird, Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography, followed by the presentation of several awards and readings by BIO members from their most recent books.

Saturday’s events kick off with the James Atlas Plenary, “Restoring Overlooked Lives,” featuring David Blight and Annette Gordon-Reed in conversation, followed by panel sessions, which continue on Sunday. Panelists for both days include such prominent biographers as Craig Brown, Claudia Dreifus, Carla Kaplan, Sam Kashner, Debby Applegate, Eric K. Washington, Margalit Fox, Blake Bailey, Jonathan Alter, Leo Damrosch, Heather Clark, Susan Glasser, Ruth Franklin, and D.T. Max. The Zoom meetings will stay open following each panel to allow for informal conversation and one-on-one chatting.

Saturday’s events also include a keynote address by 2021 BIO Award winner David Levering Lewis.

Along with panel sessions, Sunday’s events feature round table discussions on a variety of topics and the announcement of the winner of the Plutarch Award, which will go to the best biography of 2020, as chosen by a panel of BIO members.

Program

Friday, May 14

12:00 PM–12:30 PM

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Welcome by Linda Leavell, President of BIO, and by Kai Bird, Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography, the co-sponsor of the conference (prerecorded event, watch any time after noon EDT).

12:30 PM–1:30 PM

Awards Presentation

Presentation of the Ray A. Shepard Service Award, the Biblio Award, the Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship, the Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship, and the Hazel Rowley Prize (prerecorded event, watch any time after noon EDT).

1:45 PM–2:30 PM

Readings by BIO Members

Readings from new books by BIO Members (prerecorded event, watch any time after noon EDT).

BIO members with biographies published between June 1, 2020, and May 31, 2021, read from their books for three minutes each. Limited to the first fifteen who sign up. To sign up, please email the title of your book, the publisher, and the month of publication to Linda Leavell.

Saturday, May 15

JAMES ATLAS PLENARY*

Restoring Overlooked Lives

10:00 AM–11:00 AM
(Prerecorded; available after 10:00 AM)

Biographies are a critical component of our collective historical record; one consequence of allowing certain lives to be neglected is an incomplete historical record. At a critical moment for biographers to engage in a broad conversation about why certain lives have been overlooked and what can be done to remedy this, BIO has invited two world-class, Pulitzer Prize-winning historians and biographers to illuminate the subject, David W. Blight (Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom) and Annette Gordon-Reed (The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family).

*James Atlas (1949 –2019), literary biographer, essayist, and editor, was throughout his distinguished career a dedicated friend to biographers and a committed champion of the genre of biography. BIO is grateful to have benefited from his collegiality, his memorable contributions to many conference panels, and his generous support of younger biographers.

Blight
David W. Blight is Sterling Professor of History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom; American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory; and annotated editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies. He has worked on Douglass much of his professional life, and been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, among others.

Gordon-Reed

©Tony Rinaldo

Annette Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard and the Harvard Law School. She won 16 separate book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2009 and the National Book Award in 2008, for The Hemingses of Monticello (W.W. Norton, 2008). In addition to articles and reviews, her other works include Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (UVA Press, 1997), Vernon Can Read! A Memoir, a collaboration with Vernon Jordan (PublicAffairs, 2001), Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History (Oxford University Press, 2002), a volume of essays that she edited, Andrew Johnson (Times Books/Henry Holt, 2010), and, most recently, with Peter S. Onuf, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (Liveright Publishing, 2016). She has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the National Humanities Medal, the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, the George Washington Book Prize, and the Anisfeld-Wolf Book Award, among others.

PANELS (Panels are simultaneous, not sequential, within each time slot. Attendees must choose which panel to view live but the other will be recorded for later viewing.) 

11:30 AM–12:30 PM

Reflections in a Funhouse Mirror

Begin at the beginning, says the king in Alice in Wonderland, go on until you come to the end, then stop. That’s been the general practice in biography since Plutarch: a linear narrative in third-person objective. What happens if you break that model? Why would you? What are the challenges, and the rewards? We consider lives told kaleidoscopically, with different perspectives on some of the same events (Virginia Woolf and the Women Who Shaped Her World); refracted through the testimony of witnesses (Life Isn’t Everything); and assembled from shards of anecdote, testimony, and memory (150 Glimpses of the Beatles). Does the funhouse mirror give you the truest reflection?

Moderator
Amanda Vaill is the author of Everybody Was So Young (a New York Times best-selling biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy that was a finalist for the NBCC); Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins; and Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War; and she recently edited Jerome Robbins, by Himself: Selections From His Letters, Journals, Drawings, Photographs, and an Unfinished Memoir. She is also the writer of the Emmy-winning documentary Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. She is a past fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. She lives in New York and is writing a biography of the Schuyler sisters.

Panelists
Craig Brown is the author of more than 15 books, among them the New York Times best seller Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been a columnist for The GuardianThe Times (London), SpectatorThe Daily Telegraph, and The Daily Mail, and created the parodic celebrity diary column in the British weekly Private Eye150 Glimpses of the Beatles won the 2020 Baillie-Gifford Prize for Nonfiction. 

Ash Carter, co-author of Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols, as remembered by 150 of his closest friends, is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in EsquireVanity FairTown & Country, and The New York Times. He lives in New York with his wife and son.

Gillian Gill holds a Ph.D. in modern French literature from Cambridge University and has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her MysteriesMary Baker EddyNightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale; the New York Times best-selling We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals; Becoming Colette: A Novel Biography; and, most recently, Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World. She lives in suburban Boston.

Sam Kashner is an editor-at-large at Air Mail and was for many years a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. He is the author of Sinatraland (a “notable book” of both the Washington Post and L.A. Times) and the memoir When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School and coauthor of the New York Times best sellers The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee and Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. His most recent book, co-authored with Ash Carter, is Life Isn’t Everything.

 

One Subject, Three Ways: Agatha Christie

What can biographers who work in different media learn from one another—and teach the rest of us? Join a documentary filmmaker, a print biographer, and a graphic biographer as they explore how they addressed the same fascinating subject, the “Queen of Crime,” Agatha Christie.

Moderator
Laurie Gwen Shapiro
’s writing has appeared in The New YorkerNew YorkThe Daily BeastLapham’s Quarterly, and SlateThe Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica was her best-selling first full-length work of nonfiction, and was an Indie next selection in 2018. She has also won an Independent Spirit Award as a documentary director. Her 2020 New Yorker article on sneaking Dorothy Parker back to New York City was recently nominated for best NYC essay or article by GANYC’s Apple Awards. Shapiro’s next nonfiction book will be Amelia and George, about Amelia Earhart’s decade-long marriage.

Panelists
Laura Thompson is the award-winning author of Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, which was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award in 2019 and is the first Christie biography to have been written with access to all her letters and papers. Thompson is also the author of the 2016 New York Times best seller The Six, a group biography of the Mitford sisters, and of the true-crime A Tale of Two Murders. Her memoir of her grandmother, The Last Landlady, a three-time book of the year in the U.K., was released in the U.S. in 2020.

Matt Cottingham has 20 years of experience making documentaries for prime-time British television. From traveling the globe to meet the world’s most advanced robots to filming polar bears in the Arctic, Cottingham has directed dozens of history, science, and arts programs for the BBC, ITV, Channel 5, and international broadcasters. Cottingham began his career working on the BBC’s flagship current-affairs program Panorama, interviewing members of Al Qaeda. His passion to understand what makes humans tick continues with his most recent documentary, Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie.

Editor at French crime publisher Éditions du Masque for more than 10 years, Anne Martinetti is a specialist in the worlds of Anglophone cinema and literature. A contributor to the definitive edition of Agatha Christie’s works, she wrote a worldwide best-selling cookbook based on Christie’s novels, entitled Creams and Punishments, as well as a documentary about Christie’s adaptations in movies, The Inheritance Crime, for Canal+. She is co-author of the graphic biography Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie. Martinetti is also the author of a literary guide to London and more than a dozen other works—novels, cookbooks, and essays.

BIO AWARD AND KEYNOTE

1:00 PM–2:00 PM

Presentation of BIO Award by Linda Leavell, Introduction by Pamela Newkirk, Keynote Address by David Levering Lewis (prerecorded; available after 1:00 PM).

LewisDavid Levering Lewis is the Julius Silver University Professor and a 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 W.E.B. DuBois: W.E.B. DuBois: Biography of a Race, Vol.1, 1868–1919 and W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, Vol.2, 1919–1963. Lewis also won the Bancroft Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his two-volume biography of DuBois, hailed by critics as “definitive” and “magisterial.” His other books include God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570–1215 and, most recently, The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order. President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the 2009 National Humanities Medal at the White House on February 25, 2010. Lewis currently serves on the board of the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine.

PANELS

3:00 PM–4:00 PM

The Art and Technology of Interviewing

How to woo interview subjects, how to set ground rules, how to secure permissions, how to get them to think and remember afresh, and how to record, transcribe, and store your interviews.

Moderator
James McGrath Morris’s books include the New York Times best-selling Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press, which was awarded the Benjamin Hooks National Book Prize for the best work in civil rights history; Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power; and The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War. His biography of Tony Hillerman, the author of a groundbreaking series of Navajo detective novels, will be published in October.

Panelists
John Brady is the author of The Craft of Interviewing (Random House), widely used in journalism programs, and Craft of the Screenwriter (Simon and Schuster), used in screenwriting classes. His biographies include Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater (Addison Wesley/Perseus) and Frank & Ava in Love and War (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne), a dual biography of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra. A former editor-in-chief of Writer’s Digest and Boston magazine, and founding editor of The Artist’s Magazine, Brady is currently working on a biography of the magazine editor Clay Felker and a book about Marilyn Monroe.

Claudia Dreifus is the author of Scientific Conversations: Interviews on Science from The New York Times (Times Books, 2002) and Interview (Seven Stories Press, 1999), a book of political and cultural interviews used by journalism programs worldwide, among other books. Dreifus, who teaches “Magazine Writing with an International Dateline” at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and its School of Professional Studies, conducts political and cultural Q&As for The New York Review of Books and contributes to the New York Times and  Quanta. She is well known for her interviews with leading figures in politics, science, and culture around the world.

Brian Jay Jones is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling biographer of “slightly off-center American geniuses” (Washington Post). His most recent book is Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination (Dutton, 2019), but he’s also the author of Washington Irving (Arcade, 2008), Jim Henson: The Biography (Ballantine, 2013), and George Lucas: A Life (Little, Brown, 2016), which means he’s officially covered a large part of your childhood.  While he has interviewed interesting people around the planet, he still considers his interview with Kermit the Frog to be his favorite. He is proud to be a former BIO president and board member, and hopes you’ll meet him for drinks if you ever find yourself in New Mexico.

 

Researching Under-Documented Lives

This panel continues our plenary discussion and delves more deeply into the particular challenges and rewards of researching overlooked and marginalized lives. We’ll explore obstacles, including a lack of archives or problematic archives created by biased or hostile sources, as well as the rewards of finding new sources of information and new methods for telling subjects’ stories. Our award-winning panelists will also discuss the resourcefulness, creativity, and motivation they employed on their journey to research and write about overlooked and marginalized figures.

Moderator
Kavita Das
is the author of Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar, a biography about the Grammy-nominated Hindustani singer who played a pivotal role in bringing Indian music to the West (Harper Collins India, 2019). Nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize, Das writes about culture, race, gender, and their intersections, and her work has been published in CNN, Teen Vogue, Catapult, Fast Company, Tin House, Longreads, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Washington Post, Kenyon Review, NBC News Asian America, Guernica, Quartz, and elsewhere. She’s at work on her second book, Sparking Change on the Page: Lessons and Reflections on Writing About Social Issues (Beacon Press, Summer 2022).

Panelists
Gaiutra Bahadur is an award-winning writer, critic, and journalist. Her book Coolie Woman, a personal history of Indian indenture in the Caribbean, was shortlisted for Britain’s Orwell Prize for artful political writing in 2014. A journalism professor at Rutgers-Newark, and a former newspaper reporter, she writes for The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Nation, and Dissent, among other publications. Her work has been recognized with literary residencies at the MacDowell Artists Colony and Italy’s Bellagio Center and fellowships from Harvard, the British Library, and the New York Public Library.

Channing Gerard Joseph is a winner of both the Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant and the Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship for his forthcoming book, House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens—and Changed the World (Crown/Picador). The book follows the untold true story of William Dorsey Swann, an African-American man born into slavery who became the world’s first self-described “drag queen” and the leader of possibly the world’s earliest-known gay liberation organization. Joseph’s work has appeared around the globe in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and many other publications. He teaches journalism at USC Annenberg.

Pamela Newkirk, Ph.D. is an award-winning journalist and New York University professor whose work examines the contemporary and historical portrayals of African Americans in popular culture. She is the author, most recently, of Diversity Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business (Bold Type Books, 2019), which Time magazine included on its 2019 Must-Read list, and Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga (Amistad, 2015), which was a New York Times Editors Choice, awarded the NAACP Image Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and listed among the Best Books of 2015 by NPR, The Boston Globe, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

PANELS

4:30 PM–5:30 PM

How to Pay for It, or Funding Your Biography

Biography is expensive. Advances are small. Biographers frequently find themselves subsidizing their own work. We explore alternative sources of financing: federal, state, and foundation grants, fellowship opportunities, and new forms of crowdsourcing. Our panelists share their experience, strategies, and expertise in pursuit of both solvency and excellence.

Moderator
Heath Hardage Lee is an independent historian, biographer, and curator. She is the prize-winning author of Winnie Davis:  Daughter of the Lost Cause and The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home. She was the 2017 Robert J. Dole Curatorial Fellow, and her exhibition entitled The League of Wives: Vietnam POW MIA Advocates & Allies, about Vietnam POW MIA wives, premiered at the Dole Institute of Politics in May of 2017 and is traveling to museum venues all over the U.S. through 2022. Actress Reese Witherspoon and her production company Hello Sunshine, in partnership with Sony 3000, have optioned The League of Wives for a feature film. Her next book will be a biography of First Lady Pat Nixon.

Panelists
Steve Hindle is the W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research for the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and oversees the grants and fellowships programs for one of the nation’s largest collections-based educational and research institutions. Dr. Hindle, who earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge University, is a social and economic historian of early modern England by training and the author of On the Parish: The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England, c.1550-1750.

Carla Kaplan is the Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University. Her books include Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters. Her group biography, Miss Anne in Harlem, is the previously untold story of the white women of the Harlem Renaissance. She has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Culture, and the NEH, among others. She is currently working on a biography of Jessica Mitford.

Mark Silver is a senior program officer at National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the team leader for the Public Scholars program, which supports authors writing well-researched nonfiction books in the humanities for the broad public. He is the author of Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature, 1868-1937, as well as a number of book reviews, peer-reviewed articles, and translations in the fields of modern Japanese literature and culture. He has taught at Middlebury College, Connecticut College, and Colgate University. He holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures from Yale University.

 

Writing the First Biography of Your Subject

Join “first” biographers Abigail Santamaria, Carol Sklenicka, and Justin Gifford for a discussion of how best to navigate research and writing when you are blazing the trail. Topics to include how to approach sources for the first time; how to read and organize an archive when you might be the first to do so; how to contend with pervasive myths, and/or how to position the legacy of someone previously little-known.

Moderator
Debby Applegate’s first book, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Her second book, Madam: The Life and Times of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age, is forthcoming from Doubleday in the fall.

Panelists
Dr. Justin Gifford is an associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he teaches courses on American literature, cultural studies, and black popular culture. He is the author of three books, including Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp PublishingStreet Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim, and Revolution or Death: The Life of Eldridge Cleaver. He is currently writing a biography of the science fiction writer, Octavia Butler.

Abigail Santamaria is at work on the first adult biography of Madeleine L’Engle (forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux), for which she was awarded a 2019-2020 Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Santamaria is also the author of Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis. She earned a MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, is founding co-partner (with BIO member Kate Buford) of Biography by Design, LLC, and has received fellowships from Jentel, Ragdale, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Carol Sklenicka’s two full-length biographies of American fiction writers—Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer (Scribner, 2019) and Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life—have received national acclaim and multiple awards. To research her proximate biographies of recently deceased subjects, Sklenicka has drawn upon personal interviews, social media, periodicals, cultural history, and archival collections to write densely layered first biographies. She took up the writing of biography after earning her Ph.D. in literature from Washington University in St. Louis, and teaching writing and literature at The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Sunday, May 16

PANELS (Panels are simultaneous, not sequential, within each time slot. Attendees must choose which panel to view live but the other will be recorded for later viewing.) 

11:00 AM–12:00 PM

Swipe Right for Your Subject: How Do You Know It’s the Right One?

Finding the right subject is like looking for a new relationship – it is looking for a new relationship, with someone you’ll be living with for years to come. Unfortunately, no one has launched the biographers’ equivalent of Tinder—so what to do? Three biographers— Eric K. Washington, a first-timer with a never-written-about subject; Mary Dearborn, author of a half-dozen biographies, whose most recent grappled with a cultural icon; and Gerald Howard, editor of numerous biographies now writing his first— discuss where to look and what to ask in the search for a fulfilling relationship.

Moderator
Gayle Feldman, on BIO’s founding board and originator of the Hazel Rowley Prize, is completing a biography of Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf, for which she won an NEH Public Scholar award. She is author of the cancer memoir You Don’t Have to Be Your Mother; and Best and Worst of Times: The Changing Business of Trade Books, published in conjunction with a fellowship at the Columbia Journalism School. She began her career in London book publishing; was for many years a senior editor at Publishers Weekly; has published journalism widely; and is currently New York correspondent of The Bookseller.

Panelists
Mary V. Dearborn’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life was published by Knopf in 2017.  She is also the author of Mistress of Modernism, Mailer, Queen of Bohemia, The Happiest Man Alive, and Pocahontas’s Daughters. She holds a doctorate in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and was a Cullman Fellow in 2018-2019.  She lives in Buckland, Massachusetts, and is working on a biography of Carson McCullers.

Gerald Howard is a recently retired executive editor at Doubleday and is at work on a biography of the editor and critic Malcolm Cowley. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, n+1, The American Scholar, Slate, and other publications. He has received the Maxwell E. Perkins Prize for fiction editing and the Roger Klein Award. He is editor of the anthology The Sixties.

Eric K. Washington is author of Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal (Liveright | W.W. Norton), published last October, which has received praise from media as disparate as The Wall Street Journal and the Bowery Boys Podcast team (ten favorite NYC history books of 2019). He is a Columbia University Community Scholar, Leon Levy Biography Fellow, and Dora Maar House Residency Fellow. His first book, Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem, inspired his interpretive signage in West Harlem Piers Park, which won the Municipal Art Society’s 2010 MASterworks Award.

 

What Biographers Can Learn From Obituary Writers

A news obituary arguably creates the mold for any biography. Obit writing is a highly skilled form of journalism—succinct, anecdotally rich, and comprehensive. This panel of distinguished writer/reporters will talk about what working biographers can learn from the obits.

Moderator
Bruce Weber spent 30 years at The New York Times as a magazine editor, reporter, and theater critic, and from 2008-2016, as an obituary writer. He has written two books, As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, and Life Is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America. A recipient of a Leon Levy Biography Fellowship in 2017, he is at work on a biography of the novelist E.L. Doctorow, due from Scribner circa 2022.

Panelists
Adam Bernstein has spent 20 years putting the “post” in The Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person.”  Among the obituaries Bernstein has written, his favorites are those of Edward von Kloberg III, the lobbyist for dictators and despots and who embraced the slogan “shame is for sissies,” and the filmmaker Billy Wilder, who wooed his future wife with the line, “I’d worship the ground you walked on, if only you lived in a better neighborhood.”

A senior writer at The New York Times until her retirement in 2018, Margalit Fox wrote more than 1,400 news obituaries for the paper. They include the public sendoffs of many leading cultural figures of our time, among them Betty Friedan, Maurice Sendak, Helen Gurley Brown, Dear Abby, and Ann Landers. She has also written the obituaries of unsung heroes who have quietly altered history, including the inventors of Etch-a-Sketch, Stove Top stuffing, and the plastic lawn flamingo. Her work earned two Front Page Awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York. Fox’s books include The Riddle of the Labyrinth (2013), which received the William Saroyan International Prize for Nonfiction, and Conan Doyle for the Defense (2018). Her latest book, The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History, will be published by Random House on June 1.

William McDonald has been the obituaries editor of The New York Times since 2006. He has edited three books of Times obits, most recently The Book of the Dead, a historical collection published in 2016. In a 32-year career at The Times, he has held editing positions on the Metropolitan, National, Culture, and Investigations desks, contributed numerous articles to the newspaper, and was part of a Times team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for the series “How Race Is Lived in America.”

12:30–1:30 PM

Roundtable Discussion Groups

Small groups with similar interests meet one another and converse informally. Topics for roundtables will include First-time Biographers, Women’s Biography, Popular Culture, African-American Biography, Short Forms of Biography, Group Biography, and others. The full list of topics will be available in time for the conference.

PANELS

2:00 PM–3:00 PM

Do I Know Enough? Navigating the Relationship Between Research and Writing

When is it time to stop researching and start writing? Do outlines help or hinder? How do you maintain narrative momentum when questions remain? Join prize-winning biographers Blake Bailey and Kai Bird for a lively, instructive discussion of their very different approaches to research and writing, with special attention to how the dynamics between the two pursuits might shift over the course of a project’s long life.

Moderator
Lindsay Whalen began her career as a book editor and is a graduate of Brooklyn College’s MFA in Fiction, where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship and the Lainoff Short Story Prize. She is a former Leon Levy Center for Biography fellow, and her authorized biography of Mary Oliver is forthcoming from Penguin Press.

Panelists
Blake Bailey’s widely anticipated Philip Roth: The Biography will be published on April 6. His previous works include Cheever: A Life and Farther & Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, winner of the National Book Critic Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize, and a finalist for the Pulitzer and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and the executive director and Distinguished Lecturer of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Leon Levy Center for Biography. His equally highly anticipated new biography, The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter, will be published on May 11. His previous books include The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames and American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

 

Group Biography

How do you write a biography that involves multiple subjects? Learn from a panel of distinguished biographers their strategies for researching, organizing, and writing a compelling story of intertwining personalities, and how those relationships put each other into a lively context.

Moderator
Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina is the author or editor of 10 books (the 10th in progress and under contract). Her four biographies are Carrington: A LifeFrances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of The Secret Garden, Black London: Life Before Emancipation, and Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved out of Slavery and Into Legend. She has been a tenured professor at Vassar, Barnard, Dartmouth, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has received grants from NEH and Fulbright. She is currently the Paul Kendall Murray Professor of Biography and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Panelists
David Hajdu is a three-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is the author of the group biography Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña. His biography of Billy Strayhorn, Lush Life, was named one of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time by The New York Times. His latest book, Adrianne Geffel, is a satirical oral history of a fictional composer. His work in progress is a group biography of three vaudeville stars (Eva Tanguay, Bert Williams, and Julian Eltinge), told in graphic form.

Daisy Hay is the author of Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives, for which she was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy, and Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli: A Strange Romance, for which she received a Somerset Maugham Award. Her current project, a group biography entitled Dinner With Joseph Johnson, will be published in 2022. She is associate professor in English literature and life writing at the University of Exeter and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Andrew Meier is the author of two award-winning works: Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall, widely hailed as one of the best books on Russia to appear since the end of the U.S.S.R., and The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service, a biography of the first-known American to spy for the Soviets, Isaiah “Cy” Oggins.  Both were named to numerous “Book of the Year” lists.  A graduate of Wesleyan and Oxford, Meier has received fellowships from the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library, NEH, Alicia Patterson Foundation, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Leon Levy Center for Biography.  At present, Meier is at work on a biography of the Morgenthau family, forthcoming from Random House.

PANELS

3:30 PM–4:30 PM

The Professors and the Journalists

This panel of distinguished biographers represents both traditions. The panelists will explore their different priorities and have a conversation about what they can learn from each other. Does the academy cultivate the biography profession? And what skills do journalists bring to the art and craft of biography?

Moderator
Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, political analyst, documentary filmmaker, columnist, television producer, and radio host. He is the author of three New York Times best sellers: The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (2013), The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010), and The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006), also one of the Times’ Notable Books of the year. Since 1996, Alter has been a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. In 2019, he co-produced and co-directed the HBO documentary, Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists. His new book, His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life, was published in October 2020.

Panelists
Leo Damrosch
is the Ernest Bernbaum Research Professor of Literature, Emeritus, at Harvard University, He is the author of The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age, as well as seminal biographies of Jonathan Swift and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Susan B. Glasser is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes a weekly column on life in Washington, and the author of Kremlin Rising and The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III, both with her husband, Peter Baker. She has served as the top editor of several Washington publications. She founded the award-winning Politico Magazine and went on to become the editor of Politico throughout the 2016 election cycle. She previously served as the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, which won three National Magazine Awards during her tenure, and was editor of Outlook and national news sections of The Washington Post.

Since 1998 Paul Hendrickson has taught nonfiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania, and for two decades before that he was a staff writer at The Washington Post. He has received writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Alicia Patterson Foundation. He is a three-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a winner of it once—for Sons of Mississippi (2003). The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War was a 1996 finalist for the National Book Award. His 2011 Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost was both a New York Times and London best seller. Hendrickson’s most recent nonfiction work, published in 2019, is Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, his fifth book with Alfred A. Knopf.

 

Writing About Writers

Three award-winning biographers share insights into the challenges and joys of writing about writers. A particular subset of artist biographies, the genre of “literary biography” goes far beyond and is far more open than the potentially narrow definition that the title might suggest. These three biographers will discuss, among other things, how they navigated the relationship between their subjects’ life and work and created such indelible portraits of writers at and in their work.

Moderator
Karin Roffman is a senior lecturer in humanities and the associate director of public humanities at Yale University. Her first biography, The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life, was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2017.  Her first book, From the Modernist Annex: American Women Writers in Museums and Libraries, won the Elizabeth Agee American Literature Manuscript prize and subsequent publication from the University of Alabama Press. She has written essays for The Yale Review, The Chicago Review, The Wallace Stevens Journal, and others. She has received two ACLS fellowships and a Howard Foundation mid-career fellowship and is currently writing full biographies of the poet and art critic John Ashbery and the painter Jane Freilicher.

Panelists
Heather Clark is professor of contemporary poetry at the University of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, England. She is the author of the recently published Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, as well as The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast, 1962-1972. She received an NEH Public Scholar Fellowship in 2017-18, and was a Biography Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, CUNY, 2016-17.

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. Her first biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and BIO’s Plutarch Award and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2016. Franklin’s work appears in many publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, and The New York Review of Books. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.

D. T. Max is a staff writer at The New Yorker.  His book, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, was a New York Times bestseller. He is also the author of The Family That Couldn’t Sleep: A Medical Mystery.

PLUTARCH AWARD PRESENTATION AND CLOSING REMARKS

4:45 PM–5:30 PM

Presentation of the Plutarch Award by Kate Buford, Chair of the Plutarch Committee; brief closing remarks by Linda Leavell, President of BIO (prerecorded; available after 4:45 PM).

Panelists

Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, political analyst, documentary filmmaker, columnist, television producer, and radio host. He is the author of three New York Times best sellers: The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (2013), The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010), and The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006), also one of the Times’ Notable Books of the year. Since 1996, Alter has been a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. In 2019, he co-produced and co-directed the HBO documentary, Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists. His new book, His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life, was published in October 2020.

Debby Applegate’s first book, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. Her second book, Madam: The Life and Times of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age, is forthcoming from Doubleday in the fall.

Gaiutra Bahadur is an award-winning writer, critic, and journalist. Her book Coolie Woman, a personal history of Indian indenture in the Caribbean, was shortlisted for Britain’s Orwell Prize for artful political writing in 2014. A journalism professor at Rutgers-Newark, and a former newspaper reporter, she writes for The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Nation, and Dissent, among other publications. Her work has been recognized with literary residencies at the MacDowell Artists Colony and Italy’s Bellagio Center and fellowships from Harvard, the British Library, and the New York Public Library.

Blake Bailey’s widely anticipated Philip Roth: The Biography will be published on April 6. His previous works include Cheever: A Life and Farther & Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, winner of the National Book Critic Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize, and a finalist for the Pulitzer and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Adam Bernstein has spent 20 years putting the “post” in The Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person.”  Among the obituaries Bernstein has written, his favorites are those of Edward von Kloberg III, the lobbyist for dictators and despots and who embraced the slogan “shame is for sissies,” and the filmmaker Billy Wilder, who wooed his future wife with the line, “I’d worship the ground you walked on, if only you lived in a better neighborhood.”

Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and the executive director  and Distinguished Lecturer of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Leon Levy Center for Biography. His equally highly anticipated new biography, The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter, will be published on May 11. His previous books include The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames and American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

David W. Blight is Sterling Professor of History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom; American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory; and annotated editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies. He has worked on Douglass much of his professional life, and been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, among others.

John Brady is the author of The Craft of Interviewing (Random House), widely used in journalism programs, and Craft of the Screenwriter (Simon and Schuster), used in screenwriting classes. His biographies include Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater (Addison Wesley/Perseus) and Frank & Ava in Love and War (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne), a dual biography of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra. A former editor-in-chief of Writer’s Digest and Boston magazine, and founding editor of The Artist’s Magazine, Brady is currently working on a biography of the magazine editor Clay Felker and a book about Marilyn Monroe.

Craig Brown is the author of more than 15 books, among them the New York Times best seller Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been a columnist for The GuardianThe Times (London), SpectatorThe Daily Telegraph, and The Daily Mail, and created the parodic celebrity diary column in the British weekly Private Eye150 Glimpses of the Beatles won the 2020 Baillie-Gifford Prize for Nonfiction. 

Ash Carter, co-author of Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols, as remembered by 150 of his closest friends, is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in EsquireVanity FairTown & Country, and The New York Times. He lives in New York with his wife and son.

Heather Clark is professor of contemporary poetry at the University of Huddersfield in Yorkshire, England. She is the author of the recently published Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, as well as The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast, 19621972. She received an NEH Public Scholar Fellowship in 2017–18, and was a Biography Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, CUNY, 2016–17.

Matt Cottingham has 20 years of experience making documentaries for prime-time British television. From traveling the globe to meet the world’s most advanced robots to filming polar bears in the Arctic, Cottingham has directed dozens of history, science, and arts programs for the BBC, ITV, Channel 5, and international broadcasters. Cottingham began his career working on the BBC’s flagship current-affairs program Panorama, interviewing members of Al Qaeda. His passion to understand what makes humans tick continues with his most recent documentary, Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie.

Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Research Professor of Literature, Emeritus, at Harvard University, He is the author of The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age, as well as seminal biographies of Jonathan Swift and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Kavita Das is the author of Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar, a biography about the Grammy-nominated Hindustani singer who played a pivotal role in bringing Indian music to the West (Harper Collins India, 2019). Nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize, Das writes about culture, race, gender, and their intersections, and her work has been published in CNN, Teen Vogue, Catapult, Fast Company, Tin House, Longreads, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Washington Post, Kenyon Review, NBC News Asian America, Guernica, Quartz, and elsewhere. She’s at work on her second book, Sparking Change on the Page: Lessons and Reflections on Writing About Social Issues (Beacon Press, Summer 2022).

Mary V. Dearborn’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life was published by Knopf in 2017.  She is also the author of Mistress of Modernism, Mailer, Queen of Bohemia, The Happiest Man Alive, and Pocahontas’s Daughters. She holds a doctorate in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and was a Cullman Fellow in 2018–2019.  She lives in Buckland, Massachusetts, and is working on a biography of Carson McCullers.

Claudia Dreifus is the author of Scientific Conversations: Interviews on Science from The New York Times (Times Books, 2002) and Interview (Seven Stories Press, 1999), a book of political and cultural interviews used by journalism programs worldwide, among other books. Dreifus, who teaches “Magazine Writing with an International Dateline” at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and its School of Professional Studies, conducts political and cultural Q&As for The New York Review of Books and contributes to the New York Times and  Quanta. She is well known for her interviews with leading figures in politics, science, and culture around the world.

Gayle Feldman, on BIO’s founding board and originator of the Hazel Rowley Prize, is completing a biography of Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf, for which she won an NEH Public Scholar award. She is author of the cancer memoir You Don’t Have to Be Your Mother; and Best and Worst of Times: The Changing Business of Trade Books, published in conjunction with a fellowship at the Columbia Journalism School. She began her career in London book publishing; was for many years a senior editor at Publishers Weekly; has published journalism widely; and is currently New York correspondent of The Bookseller.

A senior writer at The New York Times until her retirement in 2018, Margalit Fox wrote more than 1,400 news obituaries for the paper. They include the public sendoffs of many leading cultural figures of our time, among them Betty Friedan, Maurice Sendak, Helen Gurley Brown, Dear Abby, and Ann Landers. She has also written the obituaries of unsung heroes who have quietly altered history, including the inventors of Etch-a-Sketch, Stove Top stuffing, and the plastic lawn flamingo. Her work earned two Front Page Awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York. Fox’s books include The Riddle of the Labyrinth (2013), which received the William Saroyan International Prize for Nonfiction, and Conan Doyle for the Defense (2018). Her latest book, The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History, will be published by Random House on June 1.

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. Her first biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and BIO’s Plutarch Award and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2016. Franklin’s work appears in many publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, and The New York Review of Books. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina is the author or editor of 10 books (the 10th in progress and under contract). Her four biographies are Carrington: A LifeFrances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of The Secret Garden, Black London: Life Before Emancipation, and Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved out of Slavery and Into Legend. She has been a tenured professor at Vassar, Barnard, Dartmouth, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has received grants from NEH and Fulbright. She is currently the Paul Kendall Murray Professor of Biography and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Dr. Justin Gifford is an associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he teaches courses on American literature, cultural studies, and black popular culture. He is the author of three books, including Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp PublishingStreet Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim, and Revolution or Death: The Life of Eldridge Cleaver. He is currently writing a biography of the science fiction writer, Octavia Butler.

Gillian Gill holds a Ph.D. in modern French literature from Cambridge University and has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her MysteriesMary Baker EddyNightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale; the New York Times best-selling We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals; Becoming Colette: A Novel Biography; and, most recently, Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World. She lives in suburban Boston.

Susan B. Glasser is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes a weekly column on life in Washington, and the author of Kremlin Rising and The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III, both with her husband, Peter Baker. She has served as the top editor of several Washington publications. She founded the award-winning Politico Magazine and went on to become the editor of Politico throughout the 2016 election cycle. She previously served as the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, which won three National Magazine Awards during her tenure, and was editor of Outlook and national news sections of The Washington Post.

Annette Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard and the Harvard Law School. She won 16 separate book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2009 and the National Book Award in 2008, for The Hemingses of Monticello (W.W. Norton, 2008). In addition to articles and reviews, her other works include Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (UVA Press, 1997), Vernon Can Read! A Memoir, a collaboration with Vernon Jordan (PublicAffairs, 2001), Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History (Oxford University Press, 2002), a volume of essays that she edited, Andrew Johnson (Times Books/Henry Holt, 2010), and, most recently, with Peter S. Onuf, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (Liveright Publishing, 2016). She has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the National Humanities Medal, the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, the George Washington Book Prize, and the Anisfeld-Wolf Book Award, among others.

David Hajdu is a three-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is the author of the group biography Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña. His biography of Billy Strayhorn, Lush Life, was named one of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time by The New York Times. His latest book, Adrianne Geffel, is a satirical oral history of a fictional composer. His work in progress is a group biography of three vaudeville stars (Eva Tanguay, Bert Williams, and Julian Eltinge), told in graphic form.

Daisy Hay is the author of Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives, for which she was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy, and Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli: A Strange Romance, for which she received a Somerset Maugham Award. Her current project, a group biography entitled Dinner With Joseph Johnson, will be published in 2022. She is associate professor in English literature and life writing at the University of Exeter and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Since 1998 Paul Hendrickson has taught nonfiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania, and for two decades before that he was a staff writer at The Washington Post. He has received writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Alicia Patterson Foundation. He is a three-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a winner of it once—for Sons of Mississippi (2003). The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War was a 1996 finalist for the National Book Award. His 2011 Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost was both a New York Times and London best seller. Hendrickson’s most recent nonfiction work, published in 2019, is Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, his fifth book with Alfred A. Knopf.

Steve Hindle is the W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research for the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and oversees the grants and fellowships programs for one of the nation’s largest collections-based educational and research institutions. Dr. Hindle, who earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge University, is a social and economic historian of early modern England by training and the author of On the Parish: The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England, c.15501750.

Gerald Howard is a recently retired executive editor at Doubleday and is at work on a biography of the editor and critic Malcolm Cowley. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, n+1, The American Scholar, Slate, and other publications. He has received the Maxwell E. Perkins Prize for fiction editing and the Roger Klein Award. He is editor of the anthology The Sixties.

Brian Jay Jones is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling biographer of “slightly off-center American geniuses” (Washington Post). His most recent book is Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination (Dutton, 2019), but he’s also the author of Washington Irving (Arcade, 2008), Jim Henson: The Biography (Ballantine, 2013), and George Lucas: A Life (Little, Brown, 2016), which means he’s officially covered a large part of your childhood.  While he has interviewed interesting people around the planet, he still considers his interview with Kermit the Frog to be his favorite. He is proud to be a former BIO president and board member, and hopes you’ll meet him for drinks if you ever find yourself in New Mexico.

Channing Gerard Joseph is a winner of both the Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant and the Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship for his forthcoming book, House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens—and Changed the World (Crown/Picador). The book follows the untold true story of William Dorsey Swann, an African-American man born into slavery who became the world’s first self-described “drag queen” and the leader of possibly the world’s earliest-known gay liberation organization. Joseph’s work has appeared around the globe in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and many other publications. He teaches journalism at USC Annenberg.

Carla Kaplan is the Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University. Her books include Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters. Her group biography, Miss Anne in Harlem, is the previously untold story of the white women of the Harlem Renaissance. She has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Culture, and the NEH, among others. She is currently working on a biography of Jessica Mitford.

Sam Kashner is an editor-at-large at Air Mail and was for many years a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. He is the author of Sinatraland (a “notable book” of both the Washington Post and L.A. Times) and the memoir When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School and coauthor of the New York Times best sellers The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee and Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. His most recent book, co-authored with Ash Carter, is Life Isn’t Everything.

Heath Hardage Lee is an independent historian, biographer, and curator. She is the prize-winning author of Winnie Davis:  Daughter of the Lost Cause and The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home. She was the 2017 Robert J. Dole Curatorial Fellow, and her exhibition entitled The League of Wives: Vietnam POW MIA Advocates & Allies, about Vietnam POW MIA wives, premiered at the Dole Institute of Politics in May of 2017 and is traveling to museum venues all over the U.S. through 2022. Actress Reese Witherspoon and her production company Hello Sunshine, in partnership with Sony 3000, have optioned The League of Wives for a feature film. Her next book will be a biography of First Lady Pat Nixon.

David Levering Lewis is the Julius Silver University Professor and a 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 W.E.B. DuBois: W.E.B. DuBois: Biography of a Race, Vol.1, 1868–1919 and W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, Vol.2, 1919–1963. Lewis also won the Bancroft Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his two-volume biography of DuBois, hailed by critics as “definitive” and “magisterial.” His other books include God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570–1215 and, most recently, The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order. President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the 2009 National Humanities Medal at the White House on February 25, 2010. Lewis currently serves on the board of the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine.

Editor at French crime publisher Éditions du Masque for more than 10 years, Anne Martinetti is a specialist in the worlds of Anglophone cinema and literature. A contributor to the definitive edition of Agatha Christie’s works, she wrote a worldwide best-selling cookbook based on Christie’s, entitled Creams and Punishments, as well as a documentary about Christie’s adaptations in movies, The Inheritance Crime, for Canal+. She is co-author of the graphic biography Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie. Martinetti is also the author of a literary guide to London and more than a dozen other works—novels, cookbooks, and essays.

D. T. Max is a staff writer at The New Yorker. His book, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, was a New York Times bestseller. He is also the author of The Family That Couldn’t Sleep: A Medical Mystery.

William McDonald has been the obituaries editor of The New York Times since 2006. He has edited three books of Times obits, most recently The Book of the Dead, a historical collection published in 2016. In a 32-year career at The Times, he has held editing positions on the Metropolitan, National, Culture, and Investigations desks, contributed numerous articles to the newspaper, and was part of a Times team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for the series “How Race Is Lived in America.”

Andrew Meier is the author of two award-winning works: Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall, widely hailed as one of the best books on Russia to appear since the end of the U.S.S.R., and The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service, a biography of the first-known American to spy for the Soviets, Isaiah “Cy” Oggins.  Both were named to numerous “Book of the Year” lists.  A graduate of Wesleyan and Oxford, Meier has received fellowships from the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library, NEH, Alicia Patterson Foundation, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Leon Levy Center for Biography.  At present, Meier is at work on a biography of the Morgenthau family, forthcoming from Random House.

James McGrath Morris’s books include the New York Times best-selling Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press, which was awarded the Benjamin Hooks National Book Prize for the best work in civil rights history; Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power; and The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War. His biography of Tony Hillerman, the author of a groundbreaking series of Navajo detective novels, will be published in October.

Pamela Newkirk, Ph.D. is an award-winning journalist and New York University professor whose work examines the contemporary and historical portrayals of African Americans in popular culture. She is the author, most recently, of Diversity Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business (Bold Type Books, 2019), which Time magazine included on its 2019 Must-Read list, and Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga (Amistad, 2015), which was a New York Times Editors Choice, awarded the NAACP Image Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and listed among the Best Books of 2015 by NPR, The Boston Globe, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Karin Roffman is a senior lecturer in humanities and the associate director of public humanities at Yale University. Her first biography, The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life, was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2017.  Her first book, From the Modernist Annex: American Women Writers in Museums and Libraries, won the Elizabeth Agee American Literature Manuscript prize and subsequent publication from the University of Alabama Press. She has written essays for The Yale Review, The Chicago Review, The Wallace Stevens Journal, and others. She has received two ACLS fellowships and a Howard Foundation mid-career fellowship and is currently writing full biographies of the poet and art critic John Ashbery and the painter Jane Freilicher.

Abigail Santamaria is at work on the first adult biography of Madeleine L’Engle (forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux), for which she was awarded a 2019-2020 Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Santamaria is also the author of Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis. She earned a MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, is founding co-partner (with BIO member Kate Buford) of Biography by Design, LLC, and has received fellowships from Jentel, Ragdale, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s writing has appeared in The New YorkerNew YorkThe Daily BeastLapham’s Quarterly, and SlateThe Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica was her best-selling first full-length work of nonfiction, and was an Indie next selection in 2018. She has also won an Independent Spirit Award as a documentary director. Her 2020 New Yorker article on sneaking Dorothy Parker back to New York City was recently nominated for best NYC essay or article by GANYC’s Apple Awards. Shapiro’s next nonfiction book will be Amelia and George, about Amelia Earhart’s decade-long marriage.

Mark Silver is a senior program officer at National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the team leader for the Public Scholars program, which supports authors writing well-researched nonfiction books in the humanities for the broad public. He is the author of Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature, 18681937, as well as a number of book reviews, peer-reviewed articles, and translations in the fields of modern Japanese literature and culture. He has taught at Middlebury College, Connecticut College, and Colgate University. He holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures from Yale University.

Carol Sklenicka’s two full-length biographies of American fiction writers—Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer (Scribner, 2019) and Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life—have received national acclaim and multiple awards. To research her proximate biographies of recently deceased subjects, Sklenicka has drawn upon personal interviews, social media, periodicals, cultural history, and archival collections to write densely layered first biographies. She took up the writing of biography after earning her Ph.D. in literature from Washington University in St. Louis, and teaching writing and literature at The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Laura Thompson is the award-winning author of Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, which was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award in 2019 and is the first Christie biography to have been written with access to all her letters and papers. Thompson is also the author of the 2016 New York Times best seller The Six, a group biography of the Mitford sisters, and of the true-crime A Tale of Two Murders. Her memoir of her grandmother, The Last Landlady, a three-time book of the year in the U.K., was released in the U.S. in 2020.

Amanda Vaill is the author of Everybody Was So Young (a New York Times best-selling biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy that was a finalist for the NBCC); Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins; and Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War; and she recently edited Jerome Robbins, by Himself: Selections From His Letters, Journals, Drawings, Photographs, and an Unfinished Memoir. She is also the writer of the Emmy-winning documentary Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. She is a past fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. She lives in New York and is writing a biography of the Schuyler sisters.

Eric K. Washington is author of Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal (Liveright | W.W. Norton), published last October, which has received praise from media as disparate as The Wall Street Journal and the Bowery Boys Podcast team (ten favorite NYC history books of 2019). He is a Columbia University Community Scholar, Leon Levy Biography Fellow, and Dora Maar House Residency Fellow. His first book, Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem, inspired his interpretive signage in West Harlem Piers Park, which won the Municipal Art Society’s 2010 MASterworks Award.

Bruce Weber spent 30 years at The New York Times as a magazine editor, reporter, and theater critic, and from 2008–2016, as an obituary writer. He has written two books, As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, and Life Is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America. A recipient of a Leon Levy Biography Fellowship in 2017, he is at work on a biography of the novelist E.L. Doctorow, due from Scribner circa 2022.

Lindsay Whalen began her career as a book editor and is a graduate of Brooklyn College’s MFA in Fiction, where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship and the Lainoff Short Story Prize. She is a former Leon Levy Center for Biography fellow, and her authorized biography of Mary Oliver is forthcoming from Penguin Press.

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