News

BIO Announces Zoom Event with Anne Zimmerman

 

Anne Zimmerman

BIO’s “Reading Biography Like a Writer” series continues with its third Zoom event, featuring Anne Zimmerman on Thursday, January 27, at 7 p.m. (Eastern Time). In conversation with Anne Boyd Rioux, Anne Zimmerman will discuss what biographers can learn about the craft from the recently published Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am (HMH 2021). Julia Cooke’s Come Fly the World tells the story of several “ordinary women” who embraced the liberation of a jet-set life by working as stewardesses for the iconic Pan Am Airlines. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the book is a biography writer’s lesson in how to write about subjects who lack extensive archives. This conversation will help first-time biographers, those working on family history projects, and anyone exploring how big historical moments (the Vietnam War, the feminist movement) touch writing about the lived experiences. Reading the book ahead of time is not necessary, but if you can read at least part of it, that would surely enrich your experience. The event will also be recorded and available for later viewing.

REGISTER HERE

Anne Zimmerman’s first book, An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher (Counterpoint), is the product of extensive research at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. She edited two subsequent collections of the noted food writer’s work: Love In A Dish and Other Culinary Delights and M.F.K. Fisher: Musings on Wine & Other Libations. She lives in Portland, Oregon and has taught for many years in Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program, including a course on biography writing. She is finishing a memoir.

Anne Boyd Rioux is a member of BIO’s Board of Directors, a BIO coach, and the author of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters (Norton), chosen as one of the best books of 2018 by the Daily Mail and Library Journal. Her biography Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist (Norton) was chosen as one of the ten best books of 2016 by the Chicago Tribune. She is the recipient of four National Endowment for the Humanities awards, two for public scholarship. You can find her online at https://anneboydrioux.com/.

 

 

BIO 2022 Fellowships and Prizes

BIO encourages all members to review its three fellowships, now accepting applications for 2022. Please share information about the Rollin Fellowship and the Rowley Prize, which are open to nonmembers, with your friends, colleagues, and networks.

The Hazel Rowley Prize
The annual Hazel Rowley Prize is open to first-time biographers. The winner receives $2,000; a year’s membership in BIO; registration to the annual BIO Conference; and publicity for the author and project through BIO’s website and newsletters. In addition, BIO engages an established agent to review and critique the recipient’s book proposal. The deadline for entries is February 1, 2022. Apply here.

Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship
In honor of the work of Robert and Ina Caro, BIO offers an annual research and travel fellowship of $2,500 or $5,000. BIO members with a work in progress can apply to receive funding for research trips to archives or to settings important to their subjects’ lives. This fellowship is a reflection of BIO’s ongoing commitment to support authors in writing beautifully contextualized and tenaciously researched biographies. The deadline for entries is February 1, 2022. Apply here.

Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship
The Frances “Frank” 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 provides the recipient with a year’s membership in BIO, registration to the annual BIO Conference, and publicity through BIO’s marketing channels. The deadline for entries is March 1, 2022. Apply here.

BIO Announces Zoom Event with Debby Applegate

Update: The recording of this event is available here.

Debby Applegate

BIO’s “Reading Biography Like a Writer” series continues with its second Zoom event, featuring Debby Applegate on Tuesday, December 7, at 7 p.m. (Eastern Time). In conversation with Holly Van Leuven, Applegate will discuss what biographers can learn about the craft from Nancy Milford’s groundbreaking feminist biography Zelda: A Biography (Harper & Row, 1970). The book explores the tumultuous relationship between Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a great beauty and gifted writer, and her more famous husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Reading the book ahead of time will not be necessary for gaining insights about voice, structure, use of sources, and more. But if you can read at least part of it, that would surely enrich your experience. The event will also be recorded and available for later viewing.

REGISTER HERE

Debby Applegate is a former president of BIO and the author of the newly released Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age (Doubleday), as well as The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (Doubleday, 2006), for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. She is the chair of the BIO Advisory Council.

Holly Van Leuven is the author of Ray Bolger: More than a Scarecrow (Oxford University Press, 2019) and the inaugural winner of BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize (2014). She is the editor of The Biographer’s Craft.

BIO Presents its 2021 Editorial Excellence Award to Bob Bender of Simon & Schuster

Update: The recording of this event is available here.

Bob Bender will receive BIO’s 2021 Editorial Excellence Award, presented annually to an outstanding editor of biography, on Thursday, November 18 from 7 p.m to 8 p.m. Eastern, at an online event featuring several of his authors: Marie Arana, David W. Blight, Scott Eyman, and Jeff Guinn.

Registration for the Zoom event is available at this link.

Bender is Vice President and Executive Editor of Simon & Schuster, where he has worked since 1981. He acquires a wide range of nonfiction, including biography and autobiography, history, current events, popular science, popular culture (primarily film and music), and narrative nonfiction with a distinctive voice. Authors that he has published also include Muhammad Ali, Marie Arana, Miles Davis, Jonathan Eig, David Hackett Fischer, Linda Greenhouse, John Kerry, Naomi Klein, Pauline Maier, David McCullough, Gilda Radner, James Shapiro, and Jean Edward Smith.

Kai Bird, chair of BIO’s Award Committee, with Tim Duggan, Ruth Franklin, Peniel Joseph, Candice Millard, and Will Swift, praised Bender for his “cultivation and support for so many illustrious biographers over many decades.”

Marie Arana was born in Lima, Peru. She is the author of Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story, chosen by the American Library Association as the top nonfiction book of the year; Bolivar: American Liberator, winner of the Los Angeles Times Prize for Biography; the memoir American Chica, a finalist for the National Book Award; two novels, Cellophane and Lima Nights; and The Writing Life, a collection from her well-known column for The Washington Post, where she was editor-in-chief of Book World. She was the inaugural Literary Director of the Library of Congress, founder of the Literary Initiatives division of that library, and one of the principal architects of the National Book Festival. In 2020, she received an award for her lifetime literary work from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. A writer-at-large for The Washington Post, she divides her time between Washington, D.C., and Lima, Peru.

David W. Blight is Sterling Professor of History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, which won BIO’s Plutarch Award; American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory; and annotated editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies. He has worked on Douglass much of his professional life and been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, among others.

Scott Eyman was the literary critic at The Palm Beach Post and is the author or coauthor of 15 books, including the bestselling biography John Wayne: The Life and Legend; Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart; Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille; Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer; Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford; and, with the actor Robert Wagner, the bestsellers Pieces of My Heart and You Must Remember This. Eyman also writes book reviews for The Wall Street Journal, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune. He and his wife, Lynn, live in West Palm Beach.

Jeff Guinn is the bestselling author of many books, including War on the Border: Villa, Pershing, The Texas Rangers and an American Invasion; Vagabonds: The Story of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison’s Ten-Year Road Trip; The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple; Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson; Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde; The Last Gunfight; and The Autobiography of Santa Claus. The former books editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and an award-winning investigative journalist, he is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of Fame. He lives in Fort Worth.

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

Join Us for a Special Zoom Workshop with Ruth Franklin

 

 

Update: The recording of this event is available here.

 

Please join us for a special Zoom workshop with Ruth Franklin as she discusses what biographers can learn about writing biography from closely reading one of her favorites, The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography (1934), in which A.J.A Symons attempts to chronicle the life of an elusive writer whom he discovers to be part priest, part con man. She will be interviewed by Anne Boyd Rioux.

This event will inaugurate a series of such discussions this winter and spring. Reading the book ahead of time will not be necessary for gaining insights about voice, structure, use of sources, and more. But if you can read at least part of it, that would surely enrich your experience. The event will also be recorded and available for later viewing.

To register and receive the link for the event, please go to https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIkcuyrrjIiGt3_V5moWoENfhLhL0-Avx6G

Ruth Franklin is a book critic, biographer, and former editor at The New Republic. Her book Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life won numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and BIO’s Plutarch Award, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2016, a Time magazine top nonfiction book of 2016, and a “best book of 2016” by The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, and others. She is also the author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (2011), a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Writing. Her criticism and essays appear in many publications, including the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Review of Books, and Harper’s. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.

Anne Boyd Rioux is a member of BIO’s Board of Directors and the author of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters (Norton 2018), chosen as one of the best books of 2018 by the Daily Mail, Library Journal, and A Mighty Girl. Her biography Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist was chosen by the Chicago Tribune as one of the ten best books of 2016. She is the recipient of four National Endowment for the Humanities awards, two for public scholarship. You can find her online at https://anneboydrioux.com/.

New BIO Roundtables and a Special YA Biography Event

BIO is introducing two new roundtables for members. These are opportunities for members to meet once a month or so via Zoom to network and discuss their projects. Please contact the hosts to join.

Science biography (including nature and medicine): Gabriella Kelly-Davies

Global biography (to discuss the challenges of writing global and international biography): Victoria Phillips

And the YA Biography roundtable, hosted by Heidi King, is welcoming new members and is holding a special event that anyone interested may join. Contact Heidi

YA and Children’s Literature Roundtable: Thursday, July 22 at 6 pm ET
The next Writing YA and Children’s Literature Roundtable will feature a discussion on trends in children’s literature with Kathy G. Short, professor at the University of Arizona and Director of Worlds of Words: Center of Global Literacies and Literatures, whose work centers around children’s and adolescent literature in a diverse society. Dr. Short will discuss her observations of recent trends in YA/children’s literature with emphasis on children’s biography and what she would like to see more of in the market. She will then be open to questions from the group.

David Levering Lewis Looks at Two Black American Leaders in BIO Conference Keynote

David Levering Lewis accepts the 2021 BIO Award from Pamela Newkirk.

After receiving the 2021 BIO Award from Pamela Newkirk, David Levering Lewis spoke on “Black Biography Matters: A Prophet and A President.” The prophet was W. E. B. Du Bois, the subject of Levering’s two-volume, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The president was Barack Obama.

Levering started his talk by giving a mini-bio of an unnamed figure: A biracial American who did not face the extreme discrimination other Blacks did, thanks in part to having one white parent and living in a relatively tolerant state. This figure, though, came to embrace his Black roots as well as the culture and aspirations of Black Americans.

Levering said that if his audience assumed he was talking about the first Black president of the United States, they were correct. But Levering pointed out that many of the details of Obama’s life as a biracial American applied to Du Bois as well, another man who embraced his Blackness and achieved greatness. The two, Levering said, shared “strikingly similar biographical profiles,” and his introduction featured the “interweaving of like-minded quotations” from Obama’s and Du Bois’s autobiographical writings.

Levering’s goal with this introduction was to illustrate “the significance of a largely unsuspected parallelism in the racial coming of age of two of the most influential American men of the last 100 years.” But as Levering went on to show, Obama’s career as president ultimately diverged from the path Du Bois took as a scholar and activist, though he also noted that there would have been “no Obama presidency without the Du Bois civil rights legacy.”

After adding a few more details to each man’s biography (noting that in Du Bois’s hometown of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, “black families were rarer than Democrats”), Levering turned to Obama’s idea of the “audacity of hope,” the title of the book Obama wrote before announcing his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Levering called that expression an example of political optimism—an optimism reflected in candidate Obama’s belief that racism was an old problem that the country had transcended. Levering said he “had seemed to resolve those dilemmas of nationality and color unforgettably proposed by Du Bois in his foundational text The Souls of Black Folk.” And Americans seemed eager to embrace the idea of a “post-racial” future.

But then, in not so few words, Levering said, “Not so fast.” He explained Du Bois would not have accepted that the country had transcended race. “Rather, he could remind us that he predicted that race still would remain the predicate of our American experience long after the formal dismantling of segregation.”

Levering recounted how, as a presidential candidate, Obama tried to generate universal appeal by not being threatening to white voters, while winking reassuredly at Black ones. And he might have been “just progressive enough to intrigue old troublemaker Du Bois.” But Obama didn’t live up to the promise of the “audacity of hope” and become a transformational president. And Black scholars who pointed out that John McCain won the white vote in 2008 by 10 points over Obama had their op-eds dismissed as being out of sync with the supposed post-racial era the country had entered.

Levering said that Obama didn’t seize the opportunity the Great Recession presented when he took office in 2009. Obama was economically timid and pursued a “futile strategy” of conciliation with his Republican critics. Though there were critics on the left, too, who berated Obama’s timidity. Still, Levering said Obama had notable first-term successes, such as saving the auto industry and signing legislation that created the first federal consumer protection bureau. And Levering called passage of the Affordable Care Act the signature accomplishment of Obama’s presidency (while noting it was a bonanza for the insurance industry).

Turning back to Du Bois, Levering said he should avoid speculating on what his subject might have made of the Obama presidency. But he said he would any way, given that Du Bois had “spoken rather presciently to our times” in the 1950s about what he saw as a lingering American problem: too many people were willing to live in comfort “even if the price of this is poverty, ignorance, and disease of the majority of their fellow men.” Du Bois, Levering said, moved from seeing racism as the central American problem to a broader economic emphasis on class discrimination, while still recognizing that race was a “component of America’s DNA.” Obama, on the other hand, saw race “as of limited value in formulating an economics of redress.”

In the end, Levering suggested, Obama and DuBois stood at opposite poles. “For Du Bois, racism defined the American social contract.” For Obama, “the less said about race relations, the better.”  Levering admitted that the Obama presidency ended “with much to its credit.” But the idea of a post-racial reset for the nation “had already been fatally belied by worsening disparities now become irrevocably color coded,” by a Supreme Court decision that hamstrung the voting rights of Black and Latinx voters, and by criminal justice misdeeds and police violence that fueled protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of these problems were only exacerbated during the Trump presidency.

Levering closed with words from Du Bois, which he believes are relevant for the 2022 elections. Du Bois wrote that the majority of voters had to challenge a political system run by a minority based on their wealth and power. Du Bois said some might call his ideas for change “socialism, communism, reformed capitalism or holy rolling. Call it anything—but get it done.”

BIO Honors Award Winners at Conference

As it does every year, BIO recognized the winners of several awards on the first day of its 2021 virtual conference. The presentations and winners’ remarks were prerecorded; winners of all but two of the awards had already been announced. You can see a video of the award presentations here.

Sonja D. Williams

Shepard Service Award
On the video, attendees learned that Sonja D. Williams was the winner of the Ray A. Shepard Service Award, given to honor BIO volunteers whose work goes above and beyond the call of duty. It comes with a statuette and a lifetime membership. The award is named for its initial winner, Ray A. Shepard, who almost single-handedly organized the first BIO Conference in 2010. The award was last given in 2018.

Williams has worked as a broadcast journalist and has won three consecutive George Foster Peabody Awards for Significant and Meritorious Achievement, for writing and producing program segments for groundbreaking documentary series distributed by National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and the Smithsonian Institution. Williams won the Shepard Service Award for her work, along with Lisa Napoli, in producing podcasts for BIO featuring interviews with biographers. Williams said she especially appreciated the award “since it’s named for a fellow biographer and longtime BIO member Ray Shepard.” Williams noted that she served on BIO’s board with Shepard and that he was an early supporter of the podcast.

Jeff Flannery

Biblio Award
The other award winner publicly announced for the first time was Jeff Flannery, who was honored with the Biblio Award. This award recognizes a librarian or archivist who has made an exceptional contribution to the craft of biography. Flannery was the head of the Reference and Reader Services Section in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress (LOC) until his retirement at the end of 2020.

Tim Duggan, a member of BIO’s Awards Committee, introduced biographer A. Scott Berg, whose subjects include Woodrow Wilson and Max Perkins, who recounted his experiences relying on Flannery’s expertise. Berg said that while researching at the LOC, Flannery was “more than an overseer, he became an integral part of my research process.” Flannery assisted several other honored biographers, including BIO Award-winners Candice Millard, James McGrath Morris, and Ron Chernow.

The previously announced winners were Humera Afridi and Iris Jamahl Dunkle for the Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship; Tanya Paperny for the Hazel Rowley Prize; and Rachel L. Swarns for the Frances “Frank” Rollins Fellowship.