Brandon R. Byrd and Lizzie Skurnick Win 2023 Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowships

Brandon R. Byrd and Lizzie Skurnick are the winners of the 2023 Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship for biographical works-in-progress that make a significant contribution to our understanding of the Black experience. Byrd and Skurnick are the first double recipients of this prize since best-selling biographer Kitty Kelley, a longtime BIO Board member, earmarked a major gift of $50,000 to the Rollin Fellowship in 2022.

Byrd has won for his biography-in-progress Pap: The Life and Legacies of Benjamin Singleton (forthcoming from Vanderbilt University Press) and Skurnick has won for The Special Students: My Great-Grandfather at Harvard, His Mysterious Death, and the Rise of the Talented Tenth (forthcoming from Henry Holt & Company). The committee was impressed by Byrd’s engaging invocation of a Reconstruction-era Black emigrationist—a latter-day “Moses”—who led his people, through property ownership, to resist the forces of disenfranchisement. They were equally taken by Skurnick’s measured account of George Whitte Jordan, an ill-fated ancestor, who was among a coterie of early 20th century Black scholars that Harvard University once relegated to a discrete racial-caste category called “Special Students.”

Brandon R. Byrd  is a historian of Black intellectual and social history. He is an associate professor of History at Vanderbilt University, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate classes on African American history, United States history, Haiti, the Black Atlantic, and global Black thought, art, and politics. He is the author of  The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2020, among other books.

Lizzie Skurnick  is a writer, editor, and cultural critic. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Time, The Boston Globe, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. Her first book, Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, published by HarperCollins in 2009, is a literary and cultural history of young adult fiction based on her column of the same name.

Named for Frances (“Frank”) Anne Rollin Whipper, one of America’s first recorded African American biographers, BIO’s Rollin fellowship seeks to help remediate the disproportionate reflection of Black lives and voices in published biography and to encourage diversity in the field. The fellowship awards $5,000 to each of two recipients, along with a year’s membership in BIO, registration to the annual BIO Conference, and publicity through BIO’s marketing channels.

2023 Plutarch Award Longlist Announced

A distinguished panel of judges from the Biographers International Organization (BIO) has selected 10 nominees for the 10th annual Plutarch Award, the only international literary award for biography judged exclusively by biographers. This year’s Plutarch Award Committee members are Deirdre David, Roy Foster, Charlotte Jacobs, Tamara Payne, and Will Swift.

Deirdre David, chair of the committee, says, “The judges this year were impressed by the remarkable variety and stellar quality of the books on our longlist. They showcase a diversity of subjects, intrepid scholarship, and an admirable illumination of both cultural and political achievement in an historical context. They also offer examples of the skills that enhance the art and craft of biography: how to work around black holes in a subject’s life and how to present a fresh portrait of a well-known figure in addition to bringing forth relatively unknown subjects to vivid life. The longlist [books] provide splendid evidence of how to write movingly and creatively about vastly different personalities representing many fields of accomplishment. We are pleased to present biographies about a poet, a novelist, a choreographer, a portrait painter, a civil rights lawyer, an iconic US president, a revolutionary, a US senator, an FBI G-man, and a misunderstood British monarch.”

Below is a synopsis of the biographies on the Plutarch Award longlist:

Tomiko Brown-NaginCivil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality

(Pantheon Books)

In Civil Rights Queen, Tomiko Brown-Nagin illuminates the career of the first African American woman appointed to the federal bench. During the opening remarks of her confirmation hearing in March 2022, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson cited Motley as the judge whose legal shoulders she stands upon. In this exhaustively researched biography, Brown-Nagin convincingly demonstrates how instrumental Motley’s work was in the dismantling of Jim Crow laws. She provides a riveting depiction of James Meredith’s battle to desegregate the University of Mississippi and shows how, in one of her most crucial cases, Motley assisted Meredith through a mental breakdown, until they won in court. Brown-Nagin details the pain and trauma of those who stood up and fought segregation, while exposing the courtroom antics of segregationist lawyers and judges. Highlighting Judge Constance Baker Motley’s personal and historical importance, Brown-Nagin unveils how Motley won some of her most important civil rights cases and examines the impact of many of the other decisions she handed down during her judgeship.


John A. Farrell, Ted Kennedy: A Life

(Penguin Press)

In his fresh, briskly paced, and novelistic Ted Kennedy, prize-winning biographer John Farrell brings the “Lion of the Senate” to his own place at the center of the Kennedy political dynasty and the conflicts between the forces of liberalism and conservatism in late 20th-century and early 21st-century America. Through meticulous research, including delving into Kennedy’s diary entries, family papers, and interviews with family members, Farrell crafts an even-handed but ultimately sympathetic account of the insecurities and recklessness that led Kennedy to the edge of self-destruction. In his masterful account of backroom deal-making, he shows us how Kennedy led the way with empathy and determination in championing AIDS funding, gay rights, healthcare reform, voting rights, and anti-apartheid activism. This is an edifying story of the expiation of personal failings through committed political action.


Paul Fisher, The Grand Affair: John Singer Sargent in His World

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In The Grand Affair, Paul Fisher, a professor of American studies at Wellesley College, presents a bold, enthralling narrative of the life of legendary painter John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), whose audacious and sensual portraits brought him fame and notoriety. Within his vivid depiction of the fin-de-siècle world Sargent inhabited, Fisher illuminates Sargent’s expatriate family in Europe, the evolution of his artistry, and the divergent aesthetic circles in which he moved. Fisher also offers compelling insights into the multi-layered process of making great art. In addition, he is circumspect in examining the ambiguities and uncertainties of Sargent’s sexuality and adept at exploring the profound complexities of human intimacy.


Beverly Gage, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century


In G-Man, Beverly Gage examines the man who was the face of the FBI for 48 years (1924–1971). Through extensive research, which includes newly released documents of Hoover’s personal and official files, Gage peels back the layers to reveal the world and the forces that shaped Hoover. Through this exploration of his views on masculinity, racism, and what he deemed as threats to American security both externally and internally (e.g., communism, organized crime, and Black agitators such as Martin Luther King Jr.), we gain a deeper understanding of Hoover—the man, the country he served, the tactics he used to serve it—and how his legacy looms over us today.


Jennifer Homans, Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century

(Random House)

In this brilliantly researched biographical journey, Jennifer Homans takes Balanchine from being a nine-year-old student at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, scavenging for food in the early days of the revolution, to his emergence as the world-renowned magnificent choreographer who in 1948 co-founded (with Lincoln Kirstein) the New York City Ballet. Drawing on her experience as a trained dancer, Homans elegantly integrates analysis of Balanchine’s choreography with historical research to demonstrate Balanchine’s tumultuous, 20th-century artistic life. She creates a thrilling narrative of choreographic innovation that was developed, displayed, and applauded in Russia, Weimar Germany, Paris, and eventually New York. Attuned to Balanchine’s lifelong devotion to seeing everything in his life to an expression of his art (he was an impresario of cooking and ironing, as well as much else), she explores how his friends, his lovers, and the dancers he worked with (and often adored) were all seen as serving the world of ballet. Mr. B presents us with a splendid tribute to a dazzling 20th-century genius.


Jon Meacham, And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle 

(Random House)

In undertaking this admirable biography, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jon Meacham said he set out to determine not only how Lincoln did what he did but also why. As a result, he demystifies Abraham Lincoln as a saintly hero, portraying him as an imperfect human being. Meacham details the early experiences that shaped Lincoln’s moral vision and the challenges he faced balancing pragmatic compromises with higher goals in his political career. Despite his foibles and his inconsistencies regarding racial differences, the president’s belief in a covenant with God, who created all men equal, ultimately forged his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Meacham shows us how profoundly Lincoln relied upon religious language in some of his most important public speeches, notably his second inaugural address. In this intensely soulful and moving biography, Meacham allows us a greater window into the deepest dimensions of one of our greatest presidents.


Jane Ridley, George V: Never a Dull Moment


In her new biography, Jane Ridley seizes upon the paradox observed by one of King George V’s advisers—that although the monarch seemed a dull man, his reign (1910–1936) spanned a period of continuous crisis and upheaval, both internationally and domestically. Illuminating the relationship between the apparently limited and unimaginative sovereign and his tumultuous times requires formidable abilities of psychological perception, as well as heavyweight scholarship, and Ridley possesses these in full measure. She also displays a witty comprehension of significant minor incidents and foibles of character: the bizarre rituals and practices of royal lives are woven into the larger human comedy, above all in her portrait of the marriage that underpinned the creation of the first “family monarchy,” and the implications of this for the future of democracy in Britain. This is a long book, exploring a wide range of original sources including an impressively thorough use of the legendary Royal Archives. Nonetheless, it is rivetingly readable, often very funny, and fully lives up to its quizzical subtitle—as well as showing that the lives of crowned heads can be treated in a way that breaks new ground in the treatment of major historical themes.


Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Using superbly vivid prose, Katherine Rundell gives us this joyful, scholarly, and informative biography of the poet she declares to be “the greatest writer of desire”  in the English language. She takes us from Donne’s Catholic boyhood, through his various secretarial positions to aristocrats in both the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts, to his eventual celebrity as Dean of St. Paul’s, in 1615, where thousands clamored to hear him preach. From her flawless research, we learn fascinating details of how his poems were circulated to his friends (often on tiny scraps of paper), of how he studied the law, and of how he married a sixteen-year-old girl and struggled to support a family of 10 children. For Rundell, Donne was a poet who in the process of constantly transforming himself and his art, reconciled the sacred and the profane, the soul and the body. And, in her strikingly creative biography, she herself transforms familiar images of Donne as distantly mysterious, even unknowable, into a portrait of glorious poetic genius that is present both on the page and in his life.


Stacy Schiff, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams

(Little, Brown and Company)

In this luminous, often dazzling work of art, Pulitzer Prize-winner Stacy Schiff conducts a master class in dealing with black holes in biography. She resurrects Samuel Adams, an elusive and crucial revolutionary who changed world history. Adams destroyed his documents and letters and reveled in secretly masterminding the greatest campaign of civil resistance in American history. Schiff’s exemplary research reveals him to be a virtuous, persuasive, and devious political activist who had the fortitude to “wire a continent for rebellion.” In creating a brilliant sense of place, she brings us a fresh view of Colonial New England and the seminal events in the birth of our nation, while illuminating Adams and the world he transformed.


Miranda Seymour, I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys

(W. W. Norton)

Miranda Seymour describes her subject’s life as “haunted”—and therefore, the considerable achievement of this compelling book is to trace the ghosts of an unhappy existence back to their origins and bring them into the light of day, showing how they impelled an original writer to produce a small but classic oeuvre. Despite the cult status now rightly accorded to Rhys’s fiction, it seems extraordinary that no previous biographer has fully investigated her roots and background in Dominica, which is illuminated here. So are the obscure years between her first publications and her life in literary Paris during the 1920s, and her extraordinary renaissance and rediscovery in the 1970s. Seymour conveys the grit and creative commitment, as well as the addictions and deliberately “impossible” behavior that lay behind “the Jean Rhys woman”—a figure who appears and reappears in the novels. She indicates with delicacy as well as decisiveness the points at which Rhys’ life and books diverge, and she further navigates a careful course between the many figures in Rhys’s later literary life who claimed responsibility for bringing her back to notice. This kind of empathetic disentanglement is what literary biography must do, and this book is an example of the best kind of that genre.

Apply for BIO 2023 Fellowships and Prizes

BIO encourages all members to review its four fellowships, now accepting applications for 2023. Please share information about the Rollin Fellowship, the Chip Bishop Fellowship, and the Rowley Prize, which are open to nonmembers, with your friends, colleagues, and networks.

Please note that the amounts have increased from $3,000 to $5,000 for both the Rollin Fellowship and Rowley Prize, and the number of recipients has increased from one to two for the Rollin Fellowship and from two to four for the Caro Fellowship. These increased benefits, which BIO will sustain for at least five years, are thanks to gifts from Kitty Kelley and other generous friends of BIO.

  • The Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship awards $5,000 each to two authors working on a biographical work about an African American figure (or figures), whose story provides a significant contribution to our understanding of the Black experience. Applications are due February 1, 2023. More information about the fellowship is available here.
  • The Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship awards funding to as many as four authors working on biographical works for research trips to archives or to important settings in their subjects’ lives. The deadline for applications is February 1, 2023. Learn more here.
  • The Chip Bishop Fellowship awards $1,000 to one recipient for for travel expenses, including transportation costs and child care, needed to attend the BIO Conference. The deadline for applications is April 1, 2023. Learn more here.
  • The Hazel Rowley Prize awards $5,000 to a first-time biographer whose book proposal shows exceptional merit. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2023. Click here for more information.

Anne Boyd Rioux Receives BIO’s Ray A. Shepard Service Award

The Ray A. Shepard Award was presented at the 2022 BIO Conference to Anne Boyd Rioux, author of Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist (W. W. Norton & Company, 2016) and Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters (W. W. Norton & Company, 2018).  

The Shepard Award recognizes a BIO volunteer who has donated exceptionally of their time and talents for the benefit of the organization. It is named for Ray A. Shepard, a founding member of BIO who organized the first BIO Conference almost single-handedly. Rioux has served on BIO’s Board of Directors for five years. She has served as a co-chair for the BIO Conference Program Committee, and she is a member of the Membership Committee. She directs BIO’s Coaching Program and serves as a coach herself. 

While presenting the Shepard Award to Rioux, BIO President Linda Leavell said, “I first heard of Zoom from Anne, when she suggested that we conduct our board meetings that way, even before the pandemic happened.” She continued, “After we had to cancel the 2020 conference because of the pandemic, Anne suggested that we give BIO members an opportunity to meet online.” From this, Rioux initiated a series of workshops that summer on a range of topics, from marketing one’s book during the pandemic to copyright and fair use. This series of workshops has grown into BIO’s Online Events Committee, which Rioux now chairs. This past winter and spring, the committee hosted the “Reading Biography Like a Writer” series. “These workshops . . . provided BIO members a lifeline to our community during the pandemic,” Leavell said.  

Rioux also organized and supervised a series of online roundtables through BIO, which started in the summer of 2020. Leavell said, “In giving Anne the Ray Shepard Award, BIO recognizes her innovative ideas to keep BIO members connected with one another during the pandemic, and her extraordinary energy and talents in keeping those initiatives going.”  

Despite winning many awards in her career as a professor and writer, including four NEH fellowships, she said in her remarks, “I have never gotten an award quite like this, and it’s very moving.” She spoke of how, in the aftermath of the 2020 BIO Conference being canceled due to the pandemic, she was driven by a desire to keep members connected to each other. “Zoom was something that I got used to like everybody else,” she said, “but it was so easy to use and so easy for us to get together that way. I’m just really glad we’ve been able to stay connected. I think we’re even more connected now because of these periodic events. And I hope that this is a new tradition that BIO will continue, even once we’re meeting in person again, to keep us connected throughout the year.” 



Frances Wilson Wins 2022 Plutarch Award

Frances Wilson’s Burning Man: The Trials of D. H. Lawrence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has won the 2022 Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2021. Wilson, a biographer and critic, is also the author of The Courtesan’s Revenge: The Life of Harriette Wilson, the Woman Who Blackmailed the King (Faber & Faber, 2003) How to Survive the Titanic: The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay (Harper, 2011), and Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). Guilty Thing was a finalist for the 2017 Plutarch Award.  

Named after the famous Greek writer, the Plutarch Award is presented annually by the Biographers International Organization to the best biography of the year, chosen by a committee of five distinguished biographers. The award comes with a $1,000 honorarium. 

In his remarks for the Plutarch Award ceremony, filmed in advance of and debuted at the 2022 BIO conference, Plutarch Award Committee Chair Nigel Hamilton said that the nearly 200 books reviewed for this year’s award were “a real testament to the ongoing golden age of biography that we still live in, despite the many trials our democracy is undergoing, especially, I might add, the assault on something we used to take for granted: telling the truth, the very viable truth based on real, not completely imaginary, facts.” 

In her acceptance remarks, Wilson said: “I see Burning Man as my American book. It was written for the most part when I was fortunate enough to be a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library in 2018. And I benefitted while I was living in New York, I benefitted enormously from the conviviality and generosity of other biographers, including the late great James Atlas, who I miss very much.” 

Wilson also spoke of the important influence New Mexico had upon both herself and Lawrence: “Lawrence rested all his hopes in America, which he saw as his paradise after the years in Hell. And while he of course inevitably quarreled with America, his experience of New Mexico was, he said, one of the most important in his life. I just want to quote what Lawrence said about New Mexico, because it’s so stunning and I absolutely agree with him: ‘The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul and I started to attend.’” 

In conclusion, BIO President Linda Leavell remarked upon the importance of Santa Fe to the founding of the organization, which Wilson agreed was a pleasant irony.  

Along with Hamilton, members of the 2022 Plutarch Award Committee were Heather Clark, Gretchen Gerzina, Catherine Reef, and Carl Rollyson. You can see the 2022 longlist here and the 2022 shortlist here.  

Sunlight in the Garden of Biography: A Conversation with Megan Marshall, Winner of the 2022 BIO Award

Interview conducted by Holly Van Leuven, editor of The Biographers Craft

Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in the April 2022 issue of The Biographers Craft, the members’ publication of BIO. Megan Marshall is the distinguished biographer of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism (Houghton Mifflin, April 2005, winner of the Francis Parkman Prize and the Mark Lynton History Prize), Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2013, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Biography) and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 2017). A more complete reckoning of Marshall’s accomplishments can be read here.

While it is a longstanding tradition for the BIO Award Winner to be interviewed for The Biographer’s Craft, this interview also presents a unique situation: I have known Megan since 2011, when I was a student in her personal essay-writing class at Emerson College, in which I admitted one evening after the other students streamed out of the room that I was interested in writing biography. Among her many kindnesses to me, Megan introduced me to BIO in 2012. While we certainly never imagined a scenario a decade later where I would be editing TBC at the time that Megan won the BIO Award, here we are. Our ensuing conversation reflects some of our shared history and, in part, the powerful role of mentorship in biography. This conversation has been condensed here.

It seems common for very reasonable and talented writers to feel like the title “biographer” is too heavy a cloak to step into, even if they have done significant research on a subject or published a biography. “Writer” seems more approachable than “biographer.” What do you make of that idea?

I think every writer, whatever the genre, feels they aren’t a “real” writer until their first book is out there, between hard (or soft) covers. And I think we’re right to feel that way. The need to prove ourselves keeps us going through the hard slog of research and writing, and enforces a necessary humility in the face of so big a project—the project of knowing and summing up another person’s life. It gives us a proper respect for those who have already gotten there, those from whom we can learn how it’s done. And yet, the work of biography is so long. I also believe it’s reasonable, especially if you’re writing a first biography of someone, to consider yourself that subject’s biographer, once you are well into the work. No one else is! (Let’s hope. Competing biographers are an all-too-common added pressure!)

When did you first start to consider yourself a biographer?

When I began work on The Peabody Sisters in 1985, I thought the book was going to be a kind of historical survey of women’s choices, maybe a bit like Phyllis Rose’s Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, which I loved. I knew a few biographers—Justin Kaplan, an enormously generous man, was a friend. I met Jean Strouse at a party in [Kaplan’s] Cambridge home while she was researching Alice James, and Jim Atlas was a guest speaker in a poetry class of mine at Harvard. I knew how hard the work was, the suffering they all experienced as their projects dragged on, as well as the intense absorption and even identification they felt with their subjects, all of which I probably found subliminally attractive in a masochistic sort of way. To quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: “It’s the hard that makes it great.” I’ll admit my heart sank when I realized I was writing a “full-dress” biography (a term Robert Richardson used), and I lived in fear thereafter, because I had no idea what I was doing! But of course, no one does, the first time out.

I kept telling myself, just write the book you would want to read on the subject—that’s all you can do. I had read a lot of biographies, including [those by] Kaplan, Strouse, and Atlas, of course, all excellent models. Maybe the form had also entered my subconscious, showing me the way.

Your biographies have been on the scene, shaping the genre, and influencing the cultural conversation for more than 15 years now. But you have also had many other responsibilities beyond “biographer” at the same time, not to mention all you did before The Peabody Sisters burst onto the biographical scene, and new responsibilities you’ve taken on since publishing Elizabeth Bishop. What is it like to have such a successful career as a biographer, to the extent that it might obscure your other accomplishments? Or is it freeing, like having discrete chapters of a book, to know when you are in a “biography” period of your life?

I have a lot of trouble devoting myself to more than one thing at a time. When my two daughters were young, I knew I’d have to put my writing on the back burner. They needed too much of me, and their “deadlines” couldn’t be put off. They were born seven years apart, so the years of their youths were many! My editor at Houghton Mifflin (the second of five, over 20 years), said he would “do me a favor” and take my book off the schedule. I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about, but I guess that meant they weren’t going to call me on the carpet, and to their credit they didn’t. But it was very hard, because I think I’m essentially a creative person, and I don’t feel that great if I’m not making something with words. There was a long dark time for me professionally, which may have been hard on my daughters, even as I felt I was “giving” them my all. I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish The Peabody Sisters, and I had to come to terms with that possibility, which in a way was liberating—like being taken off the schedule, I guess.

I admire younger biographers who seem to do a better job of combining parenthood with their writing lives—I think of Abby Santamaria and Louisa Thomas, to name just two of many. I don’t know how they do it, but perhaps it’s because they expect to do it. And, terrible as the child care system is now, it’s much better than it was when my kids were young. No one feels guilty about “putting” their kids in daycare, and daycare is better and more widely available. When I was little, there was almost nothing, and my artist mother struggled. The Massachusetts public schools didn’t have kindergartens until sometime in the 1960s, and where I grew up in California, preschool (a half-day cooperative, which parents staffed) was avant-garde—as outlandish as breastfeeding and natural childbirth!

It was easier for me to teach and write than to be a parent and write. I didn’t begin teaching full time until I was in my early 50s, when I was fortunate to find a good job at Emerson College, with many talented student writers like you, Holly.

We are in BIO because we believe the writing of biography is urgent and important work. And yet good biographies involve numerous challenges: they often take longer to write than other kinds of books; they rely so much on paper records (which can mean expensive research); and they often don’t reap the financial rewards of many other kinds of writing. How do you see biography continuing for the next decade or so?

There is an undying interest in biography in readers. The question is how to tap into it. I’m excited about the many new ways biographers are going about the work these days. There have always been experiments, but now there are more than ever. Perhaps the permutations are a bit like the way film and television are also morphing, transmuting. The audiences may be fragmenting along with that, and the financial rewards uncertain. But one should never write with the expectation of material success, even as you must write with the conviction that others will want to read the story you’re telling. The narrative needs to throb with that urgency—or at least pulse!

What are you currently working on? How has the pandemic disrupted or diverted your plans? What is on your horizon for the rest of 2022 and beyond?

I’ll be talking a bit about this—the disruptions of recent years—in my keynote speech. I hope BIO members will listen in! One current project I’m particularly pleased about, though, is the first Library of America edition of Margaret Fuller’s writings. It’s shocking there has never been one. I’m coediting the book with two excellent Fuller scholars, Brigitte Bailey and Noelle Baker. We hope the book will be out in 2024.

Finally, on a personal note if I may, I have always been impressed with (and blessed by!) your gifts as a mentor. You have a knack for appearing at just the right time and offering of your time and talents in a way that is meaningful. One example: In 2012, I had landed in Los Angeles for the first time ever when you emailed to say, “I’m not sure when you’ll be in Los Angeles, but this BIO conference is going on. . .” It was being held that weekend, within walking distance of where I was staying (a small miracle for LA!) but I wouldn’t have even known about it without your writing me. Do you have thoughts to share about mentorship? How have you gotten so good at it? Is it a practice you cultivate?

The pleasure of helping someone out is much more lasting than what a friend calls the “ta-da! moments” that have come my way. It’s a happier kind of happiness. And I’m also enormously grateful to my own mentors and more experienced writer friends who believed in me before I did, who thought I could finish The Peabody Sisters when I wasn’t sure of it. I remember them all, and often precisely what they said, because I lived on their words of encouragement. I would like to be helpful to others in the same way, and I try to see the opportunities. It’s also true that young writers grow up to become friends and colleagues from whom I can learn. And who knows, maybe one day you will be helping me out. I remember when two different senior biographers I’d admired deeply asked me to write blurbs for their new books. I felt a little sad about it—these were gods to me, and gods don’t need blurbs, especially from me! But I felt honored to be asked, and I did my best to return their generosity in this small way.

I want to say something more about Jim Atlas. I didn’t know him well, as so many others in BIO did. But he was the first biographer I ever met, when he visited Jane Shore’s poetry workshop. (Notice I call him a “biographer,” even though he wasn’t yet done with his Delmore Schwartz—but he was a biographer in my eyes!). I don’t think he ever knew this, but after I’d published The Peabody Sisters, I told Lindy Hess, another departed friend who ran the Columbia Publishing Course for decades, that I’d always wanted to write a short biography for Jim Atlas. She asked me which subject I’d choose, and I said Margaret Fuller. Lindy said—write the book, but don’t do it for Jim’s series. He can’t pay enough. I probably wouldn’t have written Margaret Fuller if it weren’t for Jim. And then Jim finally asked me to write a short book and the idea still excited me. I suggested Elizabeth Bishop, and I was under contract for a 30,000-word biography when I discovered a whole cache of Bishop papers that I knew meant that book would get bigger, too. Jim was the shadow in my garden of biography all along, to adapt the title of his last book—or maybe he was the sun!—and I’m glad to have the chance to say so here.

Megan Marshall will deliver the Keynote Address at the 2022 BIO Conference on Saturday, May 14, at 12:30 p.m. (Eastern).


2022 Rowley Prize Winner Announced

Laura Michele Diener has won the 2022 Rowley Prize.

The 2022 Hazel Rowley Prize Committee has named Laura Michele Diener as the winner of this year’s prize. The $2,000 prize is awarded annually to a first-time biographer and is accompanied by a careful reading from an established agent, a year’s membership in BIO, and publicity through the organization.

Diener has won the award for her proposal for a biography of the Norwegian-Danish writer Sigrid Undset (1882–1949), whom the committee called “an extraordinary woman who lived through tumultuous times.” After an unusual childhood under the tutelage of her archaeologist father, Undset worked as a secretary while attempting to earn a living as a writer. The success of her novels allowed her the freedom to travel to Italy, where she explored her spiritual yearnings and entered into a passionate but tormented marriage. It was the demise of that marriage and the financial demands of her children that led to the writing of her most famous works—sweeping historical novels of medieval Norway, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928. In addition to her medieval work, she wrote innovative novels exploring the situation of contemporary women struggling to balance families and artistic longings.

Diener’s book project, which bears the working title A World Perilous and Beautiful, will be the first full-length, English-language biography of Undset, situating her within the intellectual and political crosscurrents of the first half of the 20th century.

Diener received her M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction in 2015 from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has published creative essays in multiple journals including Under the Sun, Dappled Things, and Numero Cinq. She attended Vassar College and earned her doctorate in history at Ohio State University in 2008. She has taught medieval and ancient history at Marshall University in West Virginia since 2008, where she directed the Women’s Studies program from 2014 to 2021. Her academic work focuses on women as authors and artists in the Middle Ages.

Diener is the eighth recipient of the BIO Hazel Rowley Prize, which has been awarded since 2014. She will accept the prize on Saturday, May 14, at the 2022 BIO Conference. The 2022 Hazel Rowley Prize Committee members were Natalie Dykstra (chair), Deborah Lutz, and Steve Paul.

Arrington, Goldstein Win 2022 Caro Research/Travel Fellowships

The 2022 Caro Fellowship Committee, comprised of Carla Kaplan (chair), Marc Leepson, and Barbara Savage, has named two recipients for this year’s Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowships. The fellowships, established in 2018, allow BIO members with works in progress 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. This year’s recipients are Lauren Arrington and Bill Goldstein.

Lauren Arrington is the author of two previous group biographies, The Poets of Rapallo (Oxford University Press, 2021) and Revolutionary Lives (Princeton University Press, 2016), which were supported by fellowships at Cambridge University, Boston College, Trinity College Dublin, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Arrington earned her doctorate at Oxford University, and her essays have been commissioned by TLS, Literary Hub, and Public Books, among others. The Caro Fellowship will support Arrington’s research on the sculptor Lenore Thomas Straus, one of the women artists featured in Arrington’s current project about radical women artists working in Depression-era America.

Bill Goldstein reviews books and interviews authors for NBC’s “Weekend Today” in New York, and was the founding editor of The New York Times books website. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Goldstein received a Ph.D. in English from the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is writing a biography of Larry Kramer, to be published by Crown, having worked on the book as a 2019–2020 fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library. His book, The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year that Changed Literature, was published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.

Arrington and Goldstein will receive their awards on Saturday, May 14, during the 2022 BIO Conference.