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, 2021.
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 in occupied France. She defied the conventions of her upbringing, as the daughter of an Indian Muslim mystic and American mother, in a community of predominantly white European theosophist disciples. Afridi will travel to Karlsruhe and Pforzheim prisons in Germany to see where Noor was imprisoned for 10 months in isolation. She will also visit the Imperial War Museum in London to listen to sound files bearing testimonies of Noor’s colleagues in the field. In addition, she will visit the Fondation de la Résistance in Suresnes, France, for archival research on the role of women in the resistance. Afridi holds an M.A. in Literary and Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New York University.
Dunkle is working on the first biography of the author Sanora Babb, a largely forgotten female writer of the American West. Dunkle aims to understand the unique historical moment in which Babb lived through the telling of her life story: from her poverty-stricken upbringing in the Oklahoma Territory to living in a one-room dugout in southeastern Colorado with her broomcorn-farming family; to her time working in the Farm Administration camps in California assisting Dust Bowl migrants to her years traveling with her husband, cinematographer James Wong Howe, in Europe and the Soviet Union. Babb was a prolific short story writer and the author of several novels evoking the lives of Americans struggling to survive in the Depression years of the 1930s. Dunkle will travel to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Austin, Texas, where she will examine a large archive of Babb’s papers. Dunkle holds an M.F.A. in poetry from New York University and a Ph.D. from Case Western University.
The Caro Research/Travel Fellowship honors the work of Robert and Ina Caro, who have stressed the crucial importance of depicting a sense of place in delineating character. BIO members with a work in progress can apply to receive funding for research trips to archives or to important settings in their subjects’ lives. This fellowship is a reflection of BIO’s ongoing commitment to support authors in writing beautifully contextualized and tenaciously researched biographies. You can read more about the fellowship and past winners here.
The selection committee for the award this year was Deirdre David, chair, Carla Kaplan, and Marc Leepson.
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.
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, from a variety of voices and forms, they also had to have a place, however oblique, in the unprecedented time in which they were read. As biographers, we also paid attention to titles that showed a creative approach to narrative, character and subject area.”
You can see the longlist for the award here.
Following the announcement of the nominees, the Plutarch Award Committee will narrow the list to five finalists. The 2021 Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2020—honoring a writer who has achieved distinction in the craft—will be revealed during the 11th BIO Conference on May 16, 2020, which is being held virtually this year.
2020 Plutarch Jury members:
Kate Buford (Chair), Barbara Burkhardt, Andrew Lownie, Holly Van Leuven, Ray A. Shepard
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 W. E. B. Du Bois: W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography Of A Race, 1868–1919 and W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and The American Century, 1919–1963.
Lewis also won the Bancroft Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his two-volume biography of Du Bois, 15 years in the research and writing, and hailed by critics as “definitive” and “magisterial.” Kirkus wrote: “Du Bois has finally found a Boswell worthy of his achievements as an African-American reformer who fought for human rights in the US and the wider world.”
A spectacular scholar who has written eight books and edited two, Lewis was educated at Fisk and Columbia Universities, and received his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has taught at Morgan State University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of the District of Columbia. He was professor of history at the University of California at San Diego from 1980–1984 and, in 1985, he joined Rutgers University as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History. He served as “distinguished visiting professor” in the history department of Harvard in 2001 and, in 2003, he was appointed to his current position at NYU.
Throughout his career Lewis has received prestigious fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the National Humanities Center, the American Philosophical Society, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He has served as a trustee of the National Humanities Center; the commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery; a former senator of Phi Beta Kappa; and former president of the Society of American Historians. He currently serves on the board of the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine.
“The BIO Award is the highest honor that our organization bestows, and David Levering Lewis is an obvious choice,” said Linda Leavell, president of BIO. “His spectacular lifetime of work—his biography of Martin Luther King Jr., his two volumes of W. E. B. Du Bois, and his most recent biography of Wendell Willkie—inspires all of us and adds immensely to the genre of biography.”
Previous BIO Award winners are Taylor Branch, Robert Caro, Ron Chernow, Richard Holmes, Hermione Lee, Candice Millard, James McGrath Morris, Arnold Rampersad, Stacy Schiff, Jean Strouse, and Claire Tomalin.
Kitty Kelley, who has written seven biographies, serves on the BIO Board of Directors.
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 of how BIO advances its mission and extends its reach to talented new writers in the genre. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2021. Here is more information on how to apply and here is more about biographer Hazel Rowley (1951–2011).
Gayatri Patnaik will receive BIO’s 2020 Editorial Excellence Award on Monday evening, November 9, at an online event featuring three of her authors: Imani Perry, Marcus Rediker, and Jeanne Theoharis, along with literary agent Tanya McKinnon.
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 native of India who emigrated with her family to the United States as a child, she has focused on African American history, creating Beacon’s “ReVisioning American History” series and its “Queer Action / Queer Ideas” series.
Kai Bird, chair of BIO’s Award Committee, with Tim Duggan, Peniel Joseph, Kitty Kelley, and Megan Marshall, praised Patnaik for her work as “a very gutsy, courageous editor who has taken on some high-risk, controversial biographies and published so many outstanding authors.”
Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, is the author of Looking for Lorraine: The Radical Life of Lorraine Hansbury, winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction, and other awards.
Marcus Rediker, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh, is the award-winning author of numerous books including The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf who became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist.
Jeanne Theoharis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, is the author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, winner of the NAACP Image Award and the Letitia Woods Brown Award of the Association of Black Women Historians.
Tanya McKinnon, founder and principal of McKinnon Literary, represents New York Times bestselling and award-winning nonfiction that amplifies progressive voices, as well as fiction, children’s books, and graphic novels.
BIO’s Editorial Excellence Award is presented annually to an outstanding editor from nominations submitted by BIO members. Past recipients are Tim Duggan, Robert Gottlieb, Jonathan Segal, Ileene Smith, Nan A. Talese, and Robert Weil.
Register for free tickets on Eventbrite and receive a link to join the event on Zoom on Monday, November 9, at 7 p.m. ET.