Biography Lab Registration is Open!

On January 20, 2024, join award-winning biographers James McGrath Morris, Janice P. Nimura, and Ray A. Shepard for an online forum on the craft of biography. And don’t miss Kai Bird’s plenary session entitled “My Wild Ride as a Biographer.” Free for BIO members and students. $60 General Admission. Register now!


Kai Bird, “My Wild Ride as a Biographer” (The prerecorded address can be viewed any time after 8:00 a.m.)

10:30 – noon:  Janice P. Nimura, “Nasty Women: Making a Good Story out of Bad Behavior”

Noon – 12:30:  Break

12:30 – 2:00:  James McGrath Morris, “Online Research Beyond Google”

2:00 – 2:15:  Break

2:15 – 3:45:  Ray A. Shepard, “How to Translate Your Research into a Pace-and-Structure Matrix to Better Reach Your Targeted Audience”

4:00 – 5:00:  Social Hour

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.

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.  

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.

Marion Orr Wins 2022 Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship

Photo credit: Ellen Dessloch

Marion Orr is the winner of the 2022 Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship for his proposed biography of former U.S. Congressman Charles Diggs Jr. Orr’s reintroduction of the consequential, but forgotten legislator impressed the committee.  2022 Frances Rollin Prize Committee chair Eric K. Washington said, “Orr’s lucid prose and keenly paced narrative engaged us through the uneven landscape of American legislative politics towards an ill-fated horizon.”

“Diggs’s illustrious career was marred by personal troubles that eventually ruined him,” Orr says of the subject of his biography, The House of Diggs: The Untold Story of Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr.’s Activist Leadership: From Emmett Till to Anti-Apartheid and the Scandal that Nearly Erased a Social Justice Legacy. The book, which is to be the subject’s first full-length biography, is under contract with University of North Carolina Press. “I have roughly two or three more chapters to write,” Orr says, as he continues to plumb “Diggs’s rarely seen personal papers, original interviews with family members and political associates, FBI documents, and documents gathered from U.S. presidential libraries.”

Marion Orr is the inaugural Frederick Lippitt Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Political Science at Brown University, where he once served as director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy (2008–2014). This will be his first biography; his previous books include Black Social Capital: The Politics of School Reform in Baltimore (University Press of Kansas, 1999), which won the Policy Studies Organization’s Aaron Wildavsky Award for the best policy studies book, and the coauthored book, The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education (Princeton University Press, 1999), which won the American Political Science Association’s award for the best book published on urban politics.

The Frances Rollin Fellowship awards $2,000 to an author 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. This fellowship also includes a year’s membership in BIO, registration to the annual BIO Conference, and publicity through BIO’s marketing channels. The fellowship advances BIO’s commitment to remediate the disproportionate reflection of Black lives and voices in published biography, and to encouraging diversity in the field.

The fellowship commemorates 19th-century author and activist Frances Anne Rollin Whipper—who wrote under her nickname-turned-pen name “Frank A. Rollin”—whose 1868 biography, Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany, about a Black abolitionist journalist, physician, and Union Army officer, positioned her among the first recorded African American biographers. The Black press particularly underscored the significance of her precedent and called for more biographies of African Americans, a call which this fellowship, in her honor, seeks to carry on.

The 2022 Frances Rollin Prize Committee members were Eric K. Washington (chair), Tamara Payne, and Adam Henig.

Orr is the second recipient of the Frances Rollin Fellowship, which was established in 2021. He will receive the award during the 2022 BIO Conference on Saturday, May 14.

BIO Announces Finalists for 2022 Plutarch Award

The Plutarch Committee of Biographers International Organization (BIO) is proud to announce their Shortlist for the 2022 prize for the best biography of the year, published in English–the only award of its kind made by fellow biographers.

In the opinion of the Committee, the five finalists demonstrate virtues of fine narrative, deep research, outstanding and artful literary construction, as well as a determination to tell the truth about the subject that are a model for practitioners of our craft.

The Shortlist is as follows, in alphabetical (author) order:


Rebecca Donner, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler (Little, Brown, 576 pages)

This is a stylistically innovative, deeply researched, and passionately written biography of Mildred Harnack, an American who was part of the German resistance during WWII and who was beheaded by personal order of Hitler. Harnack’s great-great niece, Rebecca Donner, takes an enormous risk by writing novelistically and setting her story in the present tense. The risk pays off: Part historical drama, part spy novel, Donner’s book expands the parameters of biography itself. This is an extraordinary portrait of a woman who made the ultimate sacrifice for justice, and whose name deserves greater recognition.

Robert Elder, Calhoun: American Heretic (Basic Books, 640pp)

In Calhoun: American Heretic, Robert Elder provides a brilliant revisionist biography of the scorned proponent of nullification, and of slavery as a “positive good.” Historians have swept aside U.S. antebellum Senator Calhoun as an outmoded figure, but Elder suggests we ignore at our own peril the challenge to federal power that originated in the founding generation of this country.

Fiona Sampson, Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (W.W. Norton, 322pp)

Rescuing Elizabeth Barrett Browning from the reductive legend of the sickly lady lying on her sofa on Wimpole Street, Fiona Sampson’s Two-Way Mirror offers an impressive reevaluation of a woman whose poetry made her one of the most-admired writers of her time. A woman oppressed for years by her controlling father, Barrett Browning made herself into a poet so accomplished that she rivalled Tennyson in praise and popularity, ultimately forging a life in Italy, with a husband and son, and inventing herself anew. Sampson’s writing and interpretation rivals that of her subject, in this compelling work.

Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, Francis Bacon: Revelations (Knopf, 880 pp)

A finely written, illustrated and exhaustively researched life of the artist Francis Bacon by Pulitzer Prize winners Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. The authors have tracked down many obscure sources and conducted nearly 150 interviews to help us understand the psychological, artistic, and romantic pressure points that made Bacon one of the twentieth century’s great artists. The smells, sights, and sounds of Bacon’s world are vividly rendered in Revelations, while the many high-quality reproductions of his paintings provide important artistic context throughout.

Frances Wilson, Burning Man: The Trials of D.H. Lawrence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 488pp)

Frances Wilson’s brilliantly conceived and executed biography of D.H. Lawrence presents his life through the surprising structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which follows the poet’s struggles through hell, purgatory and paradise in search of, and accompanied by, Beatrice. Lawrence’s peripatetic life, traveling and writing his way from England to Europe, Ceylon, New Mexico and Mexico, reflect his battles with personal relationships, muses, and physicality, all while compulsively writing them into his changing visions of the world.



2022 Plutarch Award Committee:

Nigel Hamilton (chair)

Heather Clark

Gretchen Gerzina

Catherine Reef

Carl Rollyson