Kai Bird Wins the 2024 BIO Award

Kai Bird has been awarded the 2024 BIO Award, an honor bestowed annually by the Biographers International Organization, to a distinguished colleague who has made significant contributions to the art and craft of biography.

Bird is the award-winning author of  seven books, five of which have been biographies. Since 2017, as Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, he has worked tirelessly to advance the field of biography and to support and encourage fellow biographers. He is also a Distinguished Lecturer at the Levy Center and serves on the board of the Biographers International Organization.

With his co-author Martin J. Sherwin, Bird won the Pulitzer Prize, in 2006, for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. This seminal work became the basis for Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer, currently nominated for 13 Academy Awards.

Bird’s other biographies include The Chairman: John J. McCloy, the Making of the American Establishment (1992); The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy & William Bundy, Brothers in Arms (1998); The Good SpyThe Life and Death of Robert Ames (2014); and, most recently, The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter (2021). He’s currently at work on a book about the McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn, whom, he says, has made cameo appearances in his other books.

“I think it’s the best form of history,” says Bird of biography. “It’s the most probing and intimate, precisely because it’s about one other person. And yet through the biography of this one other person’s life, you have a window into all sorts of history that you learn along the way. So it’s also the most accessible form of history, too. It’s very captivating to the average reader.”

Heather Clark, chair of the BIO Awards Committee, said, “The BIO Awards Committee is honored to grant this year’s BIO Award to Kai Bird. Kai has not only scaled the heights of biography—winning a Pulitzer Prize for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer—he has been an inspiring and approachable mentor to many first-time biographers as the Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography. Under Kai’s stewardship, the Levy Center has become the most important institute for biography in America. Through its prestigious fellowship program and illuminating lecture series, the Levy Center, under Kai, promotes young and established biographers and brings their work to a wider public. Lastly, Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer, based on American Prometheus, has brought both Kai and the genre of biography unprecedented global visibility. We thank Kai Bird for all he has done for biography.”

Previous BIO Award winners are Kitty Kelley, Megan Marshall, David Levering Lewis, Hermione Lee, James McGrath Morris, Richard Holmes, Candice Millard, Claire Tomalin, Taylor Branch, Stacy Schiff, Ron Chernow, Arnold Rampersand, Robert Caro, and Jean Strouse.

Bird will deliver the keynote address at the 2024 BIO Conference on Friday, May 17.