2019 Plutarch Award winner David W. Blight
David W. Blight won the 2019 Plutarch Award for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Members of Biographers International Organization selected the winning book, which was announced on May 18, at the 10th Annual BIO Conference, held in conjunction with the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Blight’s book had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Francis Parkman Prize, among other honors.
After accepting the award from Plutarch Award Committee chair Megan Marshall, Blight, who edited new editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies, said he initially had no interest in writing a cradle-to-grave biography of the former slave-turned-abolitionist. Then, he came upon the collection of papers by and about Douglass held by Walter O. Evans, his subject’s great-great-grandson. That trove of material led to Blight’s writing the prize-winning biography, and he was the first historian to draw on those sources. Recounting his discovery of the material, Blight concluded his remarks by saying, “Never underestimate luck.”
The Plutarch Award Committee originally chose 10 semi-finalists before selecting four finalists for the 2019 prize. The other finalists were:
- Julie Dobrow, After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet
- Lindsey Hilsum, In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin
- Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny
You can see the complete list of this year’s semi-finalists and all past winners here.
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee (Knopf) won the Plutarch Award for best biography of 2014, as selected by members of Biographers International Organization. The award was presented Saturday evening at the Sixth Annual BIO Conference in Washington, D.C.
The three finalists were:
- The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandria by Helen Rappaport (St. Martin’s)
- The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 by Nigel Hamilton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr (Norton)
To see the full list of nominees, click here.
Fellow biographers to choose winner for the “Oscar” of biographies–to be presented next month at national conference in Washington, D.C.
Biographers International Organization (BIO) will name the best biography published in 2014 when they present the 2015 Plutarch Award during the Sixth Annual BIO Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 6.
Named after the famous Ancient Greek biographer, the Plutarch Award aims to be the genre’s equivalent of the Oscar. The winner will be determined by secret ballot from a list of nominees selected by a committee of distinguished members of the craft.
The ten books nominated for the 2015 Plutarch are:
- Nigel Hamilton, The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
- Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (Scribner)
- John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh ( W. Norton & Company)
- Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Knopf)
- Helen Rappaport, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (St. Martin’s)
- Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life (Viking Adult)
- Richard Norton Smith, On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller (Random House)
- Will Swift, Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage (Threshold Editions)
- Edward White, The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
- N. Wilson, Victoria: A Life (Penguin Press)
“The Plutarch Award honors the very best in biography, and this year’s nominees are a truly remarkable group, representing a broad swath of subjects, from playwrights to politicians,” said BIO President Brian Jay Jones. “It’s this kind of variety that makes biography so compelling — and in the hands of these 10 outstanding biographers, these works are also stories told remarkably well. BIO congratulates the nominees, and we look forward to announcing the recipient of the Plutarch on June 6.”
For a list of previous nominees and award winners, click here.
Linda Leavell’s Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) won the Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2013. The winner and the three finalists were revealed at a ceremony held at the closing of the fifth annual Compleat Biographer conference at UMass Boston on May 17.
Plutarch Award winner Linda Leavell poses with Barbara Lehman Smith, who served on the Plutarch Nomination Committee.
“I’m truly humbled by this award, and I’m also humbled by my company here, the fellow nominees,” Leavell said after Plutarch Nominating Committee member Vanda Krefft opened the sealed envelope that contained the name of the winner. Leavell was a charter member of BIO and attended the first conference, which was also held at UMass Boston five years ago. “It was amazing to me, as I was writing a biography in Oklahoma and Arkansas, to have the opportunity to be with other biographers and meet people and talk about the things that I was doing and the things that they were doing, so I’m very grateful to this organization.”
Named after the Ancient Greek biographer, the prize is the genre’s equivalent of the Oscar, in that Biographers International Organization (BIO) members chose the winner by secret ballot from nominees selected by a committee of distinguished members of the craft.
The finalists for the 2013 Plutarch Award were:
- Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (Knopf)
- Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography (Ballantine Books)
- Ray Monk, Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center (Random House)
This is the second year the Plutarch has been awarded. In 2013, the award was bestowed on Robert Caro for his The Passage of Power.
A surprised and touched “Founding Father” receives his awards. To Morris’s left is BIO president Brian Jay Jones. To his right are BIO board member Barbara Burkhardt and Will Swift.
Prior to the Plutarch ceremonies, Board member Will Swift presented retiring President James McGrath Morris with the unique “Founding Father Award” for his role in “creating, supporting, and inspiring Biographers International Organization.” BIO’s Secretary Barbara Burkhardt followed by giving Morris a beautiful bound book of tributes from members of BIO.
The award and book were both a surprise to Morris, who gave a moist-eyed thank you to the crowd.Morris said, “I might have had the founding idea, but BIO is you and belongs to you.” He is said to be currently hiding in Santa Fe, writing thank you notes.