BIO Board

Gift from Kitty Kelley Goes to BIO Fellowships

A longtime member of the Board of Directors and current chair of the Membership Committee, best-selling biographer Kitty Kelley has made a major gift to BIO of $50,000. Kelley’s donation will fund two Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowships per year for the next five years. The winners will receive a stipend of $5,000 each.  

“I feel that supporting the Rollin Fellowships helps BIO reach its immense potential as an organization that is supportive and inclusive,” Kelley said of her gift. 

Created two years ago, the Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship promotes biographical work about an African American figure (or figures) whose story provides a significant contribution to our understanding of the Black experience. It originally provided $3,000 to one recipient annually. 

Because of generous donations from other members and benefactors in recent years, BIO is able to expand its other fellowships as well. The Hazel Rowley Prize, which goes to a promising first-time biographer, will increase from $3,000 to $5,000 per year for the next five years.

The Chip Bishop Fellowship, to help a biographer in need attend the May BIO Conference, will increase from $500 to $1,000 in 2023. This fellowship is funded by James McGrath Morris. 

BIO will offer up to four Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowships this year instead of one or two. Applicants may apply for $2,500 to $5,000 to support travel to a place of significance for the biographical subject or to an archival collection. These fellowships are available only to BIO members.

Applications for the Rollin Fellowship, the Rowley Prize, and the Caro Fellowship are now open. For more information about each of these fellowships and for instructions about applying for them, click on the links above. 

Kitty Kelley Funds Rollin Fellowship and Hosts Event

Longtime BIO member and BIO Board member Kitty Kelley has donated $50,000 to the organization. The generous donation will fund two annual Rollin Fellowships of $5,000 each for the next five years. The Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship, given to writers of exceptional biographies in progress about African American subjects, was first awarded in 2021 to Rachel L. Swarns for a multigenerational biography of an enslaved Black family torn apart by the 1838 slave sale that saved Georgetown University from financial ruin. This year, the award was bestowed upon Marion Orr for his proposed biography of former U.S. congressman Charles Diggs Jr. 

The Rollin Fellowship aims to remediate the disproportionate scarcity of, and even suppression of, Black lives and voices in the broad catalog of published biography. This fellowship reflects not only BIO’s commitment to supporting working biographers but to encouraging diversity in the field. Kelley’s donation will enable the amount of the award to increase from $2,000 to $5,000 and will double the number of recipients of the award over the next five years. Of her donation, Kelley said: “By supporting the Rollin Fellowship, I hope to bring in more young and diverse members to BIO. I hope that all Rollin recipients—and everyone who receives a BIO grant or fellowship—will pay it forward by reaching out to their colleagues and classmates.” 

In addition to her personal donation, Kelley has worked diligently with BIO’s Development Committee to raise additional funds for the organization through The Biographer’s Circle, a select group of donors who host fundraising events for BIO in their homes. On May 25, Kelley oversaw the first Biographer’s Circle Event held since the pandemic hit, at the home of Steve Rubin, consulting editor for Simon & Schuster, in Manhattan. The event raised nearly $10,000 for BIO.  

Kathleen Stone, the chair of BIO’s Development Committee, said of the event, “The spirit was warm and welcoming, typical of a BIO event, and it was a successful fundraiser. Kitty Kelley was the moving force behind the event and we owe her tremendous thanks. Thank you, Kitty, for everything from creative conception to flawless execution. We very much appreciate how generously you share your energy and talents with BIO and all of us.”  

Photo by Philip Bermingham

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.” 



BIO Welcomes New Board Members and a New Vice President

By Linda Leavell

BIO members recently elected a new vice president, Sarah Kilborne, and three new board members: Natalie Dykstra, Steve Paul, and Eric K. Washington. Like BIO’s membership at large, members of BIO’s Board of Directors come from diverse backgrounds and practice the art of biography in multiple print and non-print media.

Sarah Kilborne

Sarah Kilborne has chaired BIO’s Publicity and Social Media Committee for the past two years. Thanks to her initiative and enthusiasm for BIO and the support of her committee members, BIO is upgrading its website and increasing BIO’s presence in the media and publishing world. Kilborne is a performance artist and LGBTQ activist, as well as a writer for children and adults. Her American Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of William Skinner, A Man Who Turned Disaster into Destiny was published by Free Press in 2012. Her current project is a group biography of the women musicians featured in her one-woman show, The Lavender Blues: A Showcase of Queer Music before World War II.

Natalie Dykstra

Natalie Dykstra is a longtime member and supporter of BIO. She received BIO’s first Ina and Robert Caro Travel Fellowship and has presented several times at BIO conferences. Her first biography, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, was a finalist for the 2013 Massachusetts Book Award. Her current project, a biography of the art collector and museum founder Isabella Stewart Gardner, won support from the 2019 NEH Public Scholar program and is under contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Dykstra teaches in the English Department at Hope College in Michigan during the fall semester and the rest of the year works from her home near Boston.

Steve Paul

Steve Paul is a journalist-turned-biographer. Since his retirement as a reporter, editor, and book critic for the Kansas City Star, he has written and published Hemingway at Eighteen with Chicago Review Press, an independent publisher that he connected with during his first BIO Conference. He has just completed the first draft of a biography and literary portrait of the American writer and Kansas City-native Evan S. Connell, under contract with University of Missouri Press. Paul is a former board member of the National Book Critics Circle and for the past year served on BIO’s Caro Fellowship Committee.

Eric K. Washington

Eric K. Washington is an independent historian of New York neighborhoods and the author of Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal, just out in December from Liveright/Norton. The project earned him a 2015–2016 Leon Levy Biography Fellowship, a Dora Maar House Residency Fellowship in France, and participation in Columbia University’s Community Scholar program for three years. His profile of AIDs activist Phill Wilson for Out magazine received recognition from the National Association of Black Journalists. Washington is the owner of Tagging the Past, which endeavors to reconnect forgotten history to present landscapes through articles, talks, and tours.

Kilborne, Washington, Paul, and Dykstra will help BIO grow both in numbers and in influence over the coming years.

Linda Leavell is a charter member and current president of BIO. Her biography of the American poet Marianne Moore won the 2014 Plutarch Award and PEN Award.