Biographies of Malcolm X, Jimmy Carter, and Charles Dickens are in the running for the 2021 Plutarch Award, which will go to the best biography of 2020, as chosen by a distinguished panel of BIO members. The winner will be announced on May 16 during the 11th BIO Conference. You can see the five finalists as well as the other five books that made the longlist for the award, here.
A distinguished panel of judges composed of BIO members has selected 10 nominees for the 9th annual Plutarch Award, which is the only international literary award for biography judged exclusively by biographers.
“The 2020 Plutarch Committee was well aware that we were judging last year’s biographies during a year like no other,” says Kate Buford, Plutarch Award Committee Chair. “The books under consideration had not only to be stellar examples of the craft of biography, from a variety of voices and forms, they also had to have a place, however oblique, in the unprecedented time in which they were read. As biographers, we also paid attention to titles that showed a creative approach to narrative, character and subject area.”
You can see the longlist for the award here.
Following the announcement of the nominees, the Plutarch Award Committee will narrow the list to five finalists. The 2021 Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2020—honoring a writer who has achieved distinction in the craft—will be revealed during the 11th BIO Conference on May 16, 2020, which is being held virtually this year.
2020 Plutarch Jury members:
Kate Buford (Chair), Barbara Burkhardt, Andrew Lownie, Holly Van Leuven, Ray A. Shepard
Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (Viking/Penguin) has won the 2020 Plutarch Award for the Best Biography of 2019.
The Plutarch is the world’s only literary award given to biographers by biographers. Named after the famous Greek writer, BIO awards the honor to the best biography of the year, chosen by a committee of five distinguished biographers. The award comes with a $1,000 honorarium.
Caroline Fraser, Plutarch Award Committee Chair, stated, “The life of an obscure figure, Virginia Hall, rose to the top of the Plutarch list this year in Sonia Purnell’s remarkable feat of research and storytelling. Combing Resistance files in Lyon and archives in London, Paris, and Washington, DC, Purnell retraced Hall’s well-concealed life, revealing the extreme perils and betrayals she faced, including the misogyny of handlers who nearly got her killed. Vulnerable, reckless, and ruthless, Hall emerges as a character of great complexity: an American woman who survived behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France with a wooden leg and a questionable French accent, setting up spy networks for Churchill’s government and refusing to evacuate as the Gestapo closed in. With the propulsive power of an espionage thriller, A Woman of No Importance sheds new light on the role of women in warfare.”
Sonia Purnell is a biographer and journalist who has worked at The Economist, The Telegraph, and The Sunday Times. Her previous book, Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill, was chosen as Book of the Year by The Telegraph and The Independent and was a finalist for the 2019 Plutarch. NPR chose A Woman of No Importance as their Best Book of the Year, and film rights have been sold to Paramount.
Purnell responded to news of her win, saying: “Virginia Hall was a hero in the true sense of the word, and I am thrilled beyond words to receive the Plutarch Award as a tribute to her legacy. I see myself as the lucky one who got to tell her story. She didn’t always make it easy, but we got there in the end! Thank you for this incredible honor, which is a treasure to me.”
In addition to Caroline Fraser, members of the 2020 Plutarch Award Committee are Peniel E. Joseph, Hans Renders, John Richetti, and Susan Ware. The Plutarch Award Committee originally chose ten semi-finalists before selecting five finalists for the 2020 prize. You can see all of this year’s finalists and the long list here.
BIO’s Plutarch Award Committee has chosen five finalists for the 2020 Plutarch Award for the best biography of 2019. The selected titles include the third book in a multi-volume biography of Lincoln, a look at the lives of renegade anthropologists, and the story of an American spy during World War II.
“It’ been a remarkable year for biography,” said Caroline Fraser, Plutarch Award Committee Chair. The finalists have emerged from an exceptional long list that “reflects biographers’ wide-ranging interests and talents, showcasing the best of the genre’s originality, diversity, deep scholarship, and excellent writing.” See the five finalists here.
BIO’s Plutarch Award jury has nominated 10 books for the Plutarch Award, honoring the best biography of 2019. The Plutarch is the only international literary award judged and presented by biographers. BIO’s Plutarch jury will choose five finalists from the longlist and announce the winner on May 16 at the 11th Annual BIO Conference in New York. This year’s nominees, in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, are:
All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1856–1860, Sidney Blumenthal (Simon & Schuster)
Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter, Kerri K. Greenidge (Liveright)
Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (W.W. Norton)
Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century, Charles King (Penguin Random House)
Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus, Fiona MacCarthy (Belknap Press-Harvard University Press)
Susan Sontag: Her Life and Work, Benjamin Moser (Ecco)
Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, George Packer (Knopf)
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, Sonia Purnell (Viking)
George Marshall: Defender of the Republic, David L. Roll (Dutton Caliber-Penguin Random House)
Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer, Carol Sklenicka (Scribner)
“The longlist reflects biographers’ wide-ranging interests and talents, showcasing the best of the genre’s originality, diversity, deep scholarship, and excellent writing,” said Caroline Fraser, Plutarch Award Committee Chair. “It’s been a remarkable year for biography, highlighting individuals from virtually every field and walk of life: entertainment and the arts, politics, history, literature, philosophy, religion, sports, and science. There’s something for everyone.”
Along with Fraser, the members of this year’s jury are Peniel E. Joseph, Hans Renders, John Richetti, and Susan Ware.
David W. Blight won the 2019 Plutarch Award for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Members of Biographers International Organization selected the winning book, which was announced on May 18, at the 10th Annual BIO Conference, held in conjunction with the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Blight’s book had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Francis Parkman Prize, among other honors.
After accepting the award from Plutarch Award Committee chair Megan Marshall, Blight, who edited new editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies, said he initially had no interest in writing a cradle-to-grave biography of the former slave-turned-abolitionist. Then, he came upon the collection of papers by and about Douglass held by Walter O. Evans, his subject’s great-great-grandson. That trove of material led to Blight’s writing the prize-winning biography, and he was the first historian to draw on those sources. Recounting his discovery of the material, Blight concluded his remarks by saying, “Never underestimate luck.”
The Plutarch Award Committee originally chose 10 semi-finalists before selecting four finalists for the 2019 prize. The other finalists were:
- Julie Dobrow, After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet
- Lindsey Hilsum, In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin
- Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny
You can see the complete list of this year’s semi-finalists and all past winners here.
A distinguished panel of judges, all eminent biographers, has selected the final four titles in contention for the Plutarch Award, honoring the best biography of 2018. The Plutarch is the only international literary award judged and presented by biographers.
Following the announcement of the four finalists, BIO voting members around the world will choose the winning biography. The winner will be announced on May 18, 2019, at the 10th Annual BIO Conference in New York.
This year’s finalists, in alphabetical order by author’s name, are:
David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster)
Julie Dobrow, After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet (W. W. Norton)
Lindsey Hilsum, In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (Viking)
A distinguished panel of judges, all eminent biographers, has nominated ten books for the Plutarch Award, honoring the best biography of 2018. The Plutarch is the only international literary award judged and presented by biographers.
Following the announcement of the ten nominees, BIO’s Plutarch jury will narrow the list to four finalists, and BIO voting members around the world will choose the winning biography. The winner will be announced on May 18, 2019, at the 10th Annual BIO Conference in New York.
You can see the ten nominees, plus eight books that received commendation from the judges, here.