BIO Welcomes New President, Board Members

BIO’s new President and Board members (from left to right): Steve Paul, Susan Page, Tamara Payne, and Barbara Lehman Smith.

On May 22, following the 2023 BIO conference, Steve Paul became the new president of BIO, succeeding Linda Leavell, who had served two terms in office. (Leavell’s presidency, which brought many beneficial changes to BIO, will be explored in a future edition of The Biographers Craft.) Paul is the author of biographies of Ernest Hemingway and Evan S. Connell. The latter won the 2022 Society of Midland Authors Award for “best biography or memoir.” He’s currently working on the life and poetry of William Stafford (1914–1993). Steve joined BIO in 2016 after a long newspaper career. A BIO Board member since 2020, he has served as BIO’s secretary, been on committees for the Caro fellowship, Rowley prize, and online events, and co-chaired the Program Committee for the 2023 BIO Conference. The facilitator of BIO’s biweekly Zoom roundtable on literary biography, he’s also a former board member and officer of the National Book Critics Circle.

BIO Board member Kathleen Stone has become BIO’s secretary. Additionally, three new members have joined the board of directors: Susan PageTamara Payne, and Barbara Lehman Smith. Their bios follow.

Susan Page is the Washington Bureau chief of USA Today. She is the author of Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power and The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, both New York Times bestsellers. She is finishing a biography of Barbara Walters, to be published by Simon & Schuster. Susan has covered 11 presidential elections, interviewed the past 10 presidents, and reported from six continents. She has won every journalism award given specifically for coverage of the presidency and has served as president of the White House Correspondents Association. In 2020, she moderated the vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. A native of Wichita, Kansas, she received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from Columbia University. She and her husband, Carl Leubsdorf, have two sons, Ben and Will.

Tamara Payne is the co-author of The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, written with her father, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne. In 1991, she joined Les Payne on this project, as the principal researcher. After Les Payne’s sudden passing in 2018, Tamara made it her purpose to finish his life’s work (the Malcom X project). The Dead Are Arising has won several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Award. Since joining Biographers International Organization, Tamara has served on the Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship Committee and the Plutarch Committee.

An active member of BIO since 2010, Barbara Lehman Smith currently serves on the Development Committee and formerly served on the Plutarch Committee (2013–2015). She is the author of Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones: The Artist Who Lived Twice, a biography of the 20th-century painter, and has written for various publications including Fine Art ConnoisseurPennsylvania HeritageJohns Hopkins, and TriAthlete magazines, as well as for The Baltimore Sun. As adjunct faculty for Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, she also taught a writing and graphic design class for eight years. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Members of the Board of Directors serve two-year terms. A complete list of the current members of BIO’s Board of Directors can be found here.

Biographers International Organization receives $1 million gift from famed biographer Kitty Kelley

Biographers International Organization (BIO) is thrilled to announce a gift of $1 million, to be given in increments of $200,000 over five years starting June 1, 2023, from famed biographer Kitty Kelley. BIO’s president Linda Leavell formally accepted the gift on May 20, 2023, during BIO’s annual Conference at the Leon Levy Center for Biography. BIO’s Long-range Planning Committee will oversee the gift and make recommendations for its application to the Board of Directors. This gift is the largest single contribution ever received by BIO.

Kitty Kelley is the best-selling author of multiple biographical works where she has displayed courage and deftness in writing unvarnished accounts of some of the most powerful figures in politics, media, and popular culture, including Oprah Winfrey, the Bush Family, the Royal Family, Nancy Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

For more than a dozen years Kelley has been a committed supporter of BIO, leading fundraising efforts, growing membership and seeking to raise awareness about the art and craft of biography. In recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field of biography, Kelley recently received the 2023 BIO Award. “We admire her courage in speaking truth to power,” said Heather Clark, chair of the BIO Awards Committee, “and her determination to forge ahead with the story in the face of opposition from the powerful figures she holds accountable.”

Reflecting on the impact of this remarkable gift, BIO President (2019–2023) Linda Leavell states, “For BIO’s first decade of existence, we were an organization rich in enthusiasm but poor in funds. We have succeeded in raising more money, primarily for fellowships, in the four years since BIO became a nonprofit. Kitty’s gift is a game changer. BIO’s Long-range Planning Committee will consider options for spending and investing the gift and will make recommendations to BIO’s Board of Directors. We hope that Kitty’s gift will prompt other large donors to come forward and will ensure BIO’s service to biographers for years to come.”

Incoming BIO President Steve Paul is ecstatic over this significant gift. “We are immensely grateful for Kitty’s life-changing investment in BIO. It not only affirms our growing presence on the literary landscape, but it challenges us to become even more useful and responsive to our current and future members. We take her challenge seriously. To secure the organization’s future, we know we have a lot of work to do in setting priorities, making wise decisions, attracting more like-minded donors and more culturally diverse members, and furthering the essential and energizing art and craft of biography.”

Kitty Kelley explains that her gift springs from a lifetime of loving books. “Reading and writing biographies have enriched my life, and so I hope my endowment will enable BIO to continue sharing the gifts of life stories. For me, literacy is the foundation for a life of joy and purpose, and so this gift underwrites the future of Biographers International Organization to continue sharing that joy and purpose far into the future.”

Kitty continues, “Even in this era of artificial intelligence and changes in the digital ecosystem, biography remains a universal verity. The meaning might change, but the message remains universal. As President Kennedy said sixty years ago: ‘What makes journalism so fascinating and biography so interesting is the struggle to answer that single question: ‘What’s he like?’”

To learn more about BIO and its mission, or how you too can become involved,
please contact Michael Gately, Executive Director of BIO at: or visit
For further information or interview requests, please contact Jennifer Richards at Over the River Public Relations:


Biographers International Organization (BIO) was founded in 2009 to promote the art and craft of biography, cultivate a diverse community of biographers, encourage public interest in biography, and provide educational and fellowship opportunities that support the work of biographers worldwide. Activities include an annual conference, monthly and quarterly newsletters, a series of podcasts, online workshops, one-on-one coaching, fellowships for biographies in progress, and awards for outstanding achievement. 

Gerald Howard Wins the 2022 BIO Editorial Excellence Award

Gerald Howard received Biographers International Organization’s 2022 Editorial Excellence Award on Tuesday, November 8. The award is presented annually to an outstanding editor of biography. Co-hosted with the Leon Levy Center for Biography, the ceremony took place at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and featured five authors paying tribute to his work: Debby Applegate, Madison Smartt Bell, Kathryn Harrison, James Kaplan, and Jay Parini. 

“Having worked with Gerry for over 20 years, and having read many of his biographies,” wrote Applegate in her letter of nomination, “I can testify personally to the unusual care, sensitivity, and extraordinary cultural and historical knowledge he brought to these manuscripts. He always treats biographies as high art, as worthy of fine craftsmanship and vigorous storytelling as any novel.”

“We are delighted to present this year’s Editorial Excellence Award to Gerry Howard,” said Heather Clark, chair of the selection committee, “in recognition of the extraordinary care and attention he has given to his biographers, and the practice of biography, during his half century in publishing.” Also on the committee are A’Lelia Bundles, Tim Duggan, John A. Farrell, and Candice Millard. 

 Gerald Howard retired in 2020 as executive editor and vice president of Doubleday Books after almost 50 years in publishing. He began his career in 1972 as a copywriter for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and during his following tenure at Viking Penguin, Norton, and then Doubleday, he acquired and published biographies on an extraordinary range of subjects: from Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal, Mary McCarthy, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Sendak, Luciano Pavarotti, and Joan of Arc, to lesser-known figures such as Iceberg Slim, Lester Bangs, Harold Hayes, and homicide detective Dave Carbone. Howard is also renowned as an editor of fiction, having received the 2009 Maxwell Perkins Award, and he has worked with authors such as Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, A. M. Homes, David Foster Wallace, and Hanya Yanagihara. His essays and reviews have appeared in Bookforum, Tin House, American Scholar, London Review of Books, n+1, Salon, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the legendary editor Malcolm Cowley for Penguin Press, which, to the amusement of some colleagues, is overdue. 

BIO’s Editorial Excellence Award has been presented since 2014. Past recipients are Bob Bender, Tim Duggan, Robert Gottlieb, Gayatri Patnaik, Jonathan Segal, Ileene Smith, Nan A. Talese, and Robert Weil. 

Announcing a New BIO Event—Biography Lab 2023: An Online Forum on Craft

Biography Lab 2023: An Online Forum on Craft is a one-day, online conference that will take place on Saturday, January 21, 2023.

BIO’s Board of Directors created this event, which we hope will become annual, in direct response to the feedback we received after the May 2022 online BIO Conference. While many BIO members are eager to meet in person again, many others urged us to preserve some aspects of the online conference for those unable to travel. Our post-conference survey indicated that learning biographical craft is the number one reason participants attend the Conference.

Biography Lab 2023 will feature a keynote by Dame Hermione Lee on “Biographical Choices.” Three other distinguished biographers will conduct individual 90-minute sessions on aspects of biographical craft. Eric K. Washington will lead one on finding a subject’s unwritten voice;  T. J. Stiles will discuss characterization; and Caroline Fraser will direct hers on incorporating history into biographies. Each of these sessions will allow plenty of time for questions from participants. The day will conclude with an online social hour.

Best of all, the conference is offered at no charge to BIO members and to students. The fee for nonmembers is $60, which includes a year’s membership in BIO.

For more information about Biography Lab 2023, click here. To register, click here.

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

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).


BIO Announces Zoom Event with Gerald Howard

Update: The recording of this event is available here

The next session in our online workshop series “How to Read Biographies Like a Writer” has been scheduled for March 30 (7 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Central). The hourlong conversation will feature an esteemed publishing veteran, Gerald Howard, and his intriguing selection: the late Patricia Bosworth’s Montgomery Clift, which he describes as “the best celebrity biography (so-called) of the past fifty years” and a model for all “biographers who have to deal with sad and scandalous aspects of public figures, especially in the arts.” Those who’d like to read the book ahead of time can readily find copies available.

Gerald Howard is a recently retired book editor who worked with numerous biographers over the course of his career. He had the pleasure of reissuing Bosworth’s biography of Diane Arbus in the mid-nineties when he worked at Norton. His essays and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, the New York Times Book Review, n+1, Bookforum, Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other publications. He is currently writing a biography of the influential editor and critic Malcolm Cowley.

Howard will be interviewed by Steve Paul, BIO board member and member of the online workshop committee.

Please join us for what will prove to be a lively and enlightening discussion on the craft and creation of biography.

Date: Wednesday, March 30, 7 p.m. Eastern/ 6 p.m. Central

The event will also be recorded and available for later viewing.





BIO 2022 Conference Registration is Open!

The 2022 BIO conference will take place online Friday through Sunday, May 13–15, 2022. Panels, social hours, and roundtables are live and take place in real time. Other events are prerecorded and may be watched at your convenience, as indicated. The panels will also be recorded and available to conference participants a week or two after the conference itself.


Detailed session information is available here.

The cost of registration is $49 for BIO members, $99 for nonmembers. Those in need of financial assistance may apply for a Chip Bishop Fellowship here.

The conference will begin with the James Atlas Plenary, in which two experimental biographers address the theme of the conference: “Disrupting the Conventions of Biography.” Plenary speakers will be Craig Brown, author of 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret and 150 Glimpses of the Beatles; and George Packer, author of Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the America Century.

On Saturday the 2022 BIO Award winner, Megan Marshall, will deliver the keynote address. A long-time advocate for biography and biographers, Marshall is the author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism; Margaret Fuller: A New American Life; and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast. Her books have received multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Margaret Fuller.

Panels on the basics of biography, its craft, its business aspects, and its recent disruptions are offered on all three days. Sixteen live Zoom panels will include Biography in the Age of #metoo; Biography in Different Forms; Biography in the Worst of Times; Biographies of Families and Family Members; Black Women’s Biography; and Bertelsmann and the Future of Publishing.

Also offered will be round tables on various subjects, short readings of new books by members, announcements of the Biblio award and fellowship winners, and the announcement of the Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2021, as judged by biographers. New this year will be two virtual social hours, one on Friday afternoon and the other on Sunday evening.

BIO members who have a new biography published between June 1, 2021 and June 1, 2022 are invited to participate in the conference reading. Self-published books are not eligible. Please send the title of your book, the name of its publisher, and the month of publication here.