Awards

BIO Announces Long List for Plutarch Award

A distinguished panel of judges, all eminent biographers, has nominated ten books for the Plutarch Award, honoring the best biography of 2018. The Plutarch is the only international literary award judged and presented by biographers.

Following the announcement of the ten nominees, BIO’s Plutarch jury will narrow the list to four finalists, and BIO voting members around the world will choose the winning biography. The winner will be announced on May 18, 2019, at the 10th Annual BIO Conference in New York.

You can see the ten nominees, plus eight books that received commendation from the judges, here.

Mayborn/BIO Fellowship Winner Hones Her Work

Alison Owings knew she wanted to write about homelessness, but she wasn’t sure how to approach the topic. Then, on a walking tour of San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin neighborhood, she met Del Seymour, an elderly African American man leading a group of curious whites through the streets he knew so well. After all, he had earned the unofficial title of “the mayor of the Tenderloin.”

As he recounted some of his experiences as a homeless man in the neighborhood, Seymour said, “I could have gotten a Ph.D. in sidewalks”—and Owings knew she had the focus for her book. She would make Seymour a “micro example of the macro American scourge of homelessness.”

Owings talked about her subject and the biography-in-progress of his life at a reading marking the end of her residency in Tesuque, New Mexico, where she had spent several weeks working on the book as the ninth winner of the Mayborn/BIO Fellowship in Biography. Her host and mentor for her time in New Mexico was BIO co-founder James McGrath Morris, who also hosted Owing’s reading in his home.

Owings had previously written four books, but her book on Seymour is her first biography. Its working title is The Book of Del: Scenes from a Life Before, During, and After Homelessness. Owing began interviewing Seymour, now 71, in late 2015, and she also talked to about 15 people who had crossed his path in the Tenderloin—including his former crack dealer.

Seymour, a Vietnam War veteran who served as a medic and later became a successful contractor and engineer, found himself on the streets during his 18-year addiction to crack cocaine. During that time, he was a self-described hustler—acting as a go-between for other homeless people in myriad situations, legal and otherwise, and always for a fee. For a time, he was also a pimp.

Now clean and living in his own place, Seymour helps run Code Tenderloin, an organization he founded in 2015 to help provide education and ultimately jobs for people in his neighborhood. He also speaks frequently about homelessness to church and civic groups, and he shared his views on the “scourge” at the White House with the Obama administration.

While Seymour has been a cooperative subject, he is often fuzzy on dates and jumps around in his chronology. Owings has decided to present her material in impressionistic scenes. Right now, she envisions somewhere between 50 and 100 of these vignettes that show Seymour’s background, his descent into addiction and life on the street, and the positive path his life has taken since kicking crack.

Owings said the Mayborn/BIO Fellowship has given her what every writer craves: “uninterrupted time.” She has also received Morris’s help in structuring and condensing her writing. That included printing out her interview transcripts, which totaled two reams of paper. At the reading, Morris noted that Seymour’s domination of the research material and non-chronological presentation posed a particular challenge for Owings: “Organizing that so she can write a narrative is very hard.”

Another challenge Owings might face is finding a publisher, since she presently does not have any kind of collaboration agreement with Seymour, though she has promised him a share in any profits. Owings said, “Del has told me, oh, he’ll sign anything, don’t worry about it,” but as one audience member pointed out, he is a self-confessed hustler.

Still, Owings believes Seymour is motivated mostly by a desire for some kind of redemption: “He’s still trying to exonerate himself from what he did before . . . make good for what he did bad.” And while Seymour’s life dominates the story, Owings has kept a focus on the larger issue of homelessness and how people on the streets—or, increasingly, those working full-time jobs and living in their cars—struggle to survive.

Duggan Receives Editorial Excellence Award

BIO president Cathy Curtis and former president Will Swift flank Tim Duggan, winner of  BIO’s 2018 Editorial Excellence Award.

On November 7, BIO presented its fifth annual Editorial Excellence Award to Tim Duggan, editor and publisher of Tim Duggan Books, an imprint of Crown at Penguin Random House. The Biographer’s Craft will have a write-up of the evening’s events in December. You can read Duggan’s remarks on accepting the award here.

First-time Biographers, Apply Now for the Rowley Prize

BIO is accepting applications for the Hazel Rowley Prize. The prize rewards a first-time biographer with: funding (the $2,000 award); a careful reading from an established agent; one year’s membership in BIO (along with registration to the annual Biographers International
Organization Conference); and publicity for the author and project through the BIO website, The Biographer’s Craft newsletter, etc. The prize is a way for BIO To advance its mission and extend its reach to talented new practitioners.

The prize is open to all first-time biographers anywhere in the world who are writing in English; who are working on a biography that has not been commissioned, contracted, or self-published; and who have never published a book-length biography, history, or work of narrative nonfiction. Biography is defined for this prize as a narrative of an individual’s life or the story of a group of lives. Innovative ways of treating a life (or lives) will be considered at the committee’s discretion. Memoirs, however, are not eligible.

Learn more about the prize and the application process here.

Apply Now for the Caro Fellowship

BIO is accepting applications for the Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship. BIO members with a work in progress can apply to receive funding for research trips to archives or to important settings in their subject’s lives. The fellowship is restricted to supporting works of biography and not works of history, autobiography, or memoir.

The application deadline is February 1, 2019. In the spring of 2019, BIO will award either one $5,000 or two $2,500 fellowships, based on the judgment of the panel of three judges: Deirdre David, Caroline Fraser, and Marc Leepson. To apply, click here.

The Caro Fellowship, first awarded in 2018, is given in honor of Robert and Ina Caro, whose work demonstrates the crucial importance of depicting a sense of place in delineating character.

Tim Duggan to Receive BIO’s Editorial Excellence Award


Biographers International Organization will present its fifth annual Editorial Excellence Award to Tim Duggan, editor and publisher of Tim Duggan Books, an imprint of Crown at Penguin Random House. Please join us on Wednesday, November 7, at 6:30 p.m., for wine, hors d’oeuvres, and a celebration of Tim Duggan’s work on behalf of his authors, with a discussion of the pleasures and challenges of editing, and of the state of the art of serious biography and nonfiction. The event will be held in New York at the Fabbri Mansion (also known as House of the Redeemer), 7 East 95th Street.

BIO founder James McGrath Morris (Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power) will introduce Duggan. Other speakers will include David Michaelis (Schultz and Peanuts: A BiographyN.C. Wyeth: A Biography), who is currently working on a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Adam Begley (The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera).

Duggan founded his eponymous imprint in 2014 after working for many years as an executive editor at HarperCollins. Authors he has edited include Timothy Snyder, Michiko Kakutani, Adam Begley, Daniel Mendelsohn, Mark Singer, Madeleine Albright, Michael Kinsley, and Brenda Wineapple. The books he has published include winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and multiple finalists for the National Book Award.

Duggan is a member of BIO’s Advisory Council, a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Previous winners of the award are Robert Gottlieb, Jonathan Segal, Nan Talese, and Robert Weil.

Although this event is free, advance registration is necessary. Please click here to register.

Alison Owings Wins Mayborn Fellowship

photo by Judy Dater

Alison Owings won the Biography Fellowship awarded annually by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, held at the University of North Texas. The fellowship is co-sponsored by BIO and BIO co-founder James McGrath Morris. With her fellowship, Owings receives a two- to three-week residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and mentoring from Morris during her stay. In addition, she will receive complimentary admission to the 2019 BIO Conference and a $500 stipend.

During her stay in New Mexico, Owings will be working on The Book of Del: A Life Before, During and After Homelessness. The book explores the experiences and thoughts of one formerly homeless individual and recounts the life of a former crack cocaine addict now recognized for a jobs program he has started for disadvantaged young people. Owings’s previous titles include Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans and Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich, which was named a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year.”

Andrew D. Scrimgeour Wins 2018 Hazel Rowley Prize

Andrew D. Scrimgeour of Cary, North Carolina, has received the 2018 Hazel Rowley Prize of Biographers International Organization (BIO) for best book proposal from a first-time biographer. Scrimgeour’s proposal for The Man Who Tried to Save Jesus: Robert W. Funk and The Jesus Seminar—about one of the most controversial figures in modern biblical scholarship—was selected by distinguished biographers Stacy Schiff and James Atlas.

Scrimgeour’s proposed biography would chart Funk’s career, which revolutionized the study of biblical texts. For two decades, through his signature creation, the Jesus Seminar, he attracted more sustained media attention in the United States than any religious authority other than the Pope.

In addition to the $2,000 cash award, the Rowley Prize helps a promising first-time biographer by providing introductions to prominent agents. The prize also includes a year’s membership in BIO and publicity on the BIO website and The Biographer’s Craft newsletter.

The prize was named in memory of Hazel Rowley (1951-2011). A BIO enthusiast from the inception of this organization, she understood the need for biographers to help one another on the path to publication. Before her untimely death, she published four books: Christina Stead: A Biography (a New York Times “Notable Book”); Richard Wright: The Life and Times (a Washington Post “Best Book”); Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre; and Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage.

You can find more information about the prize and the application process here.