2019 Plutarch Award winner David W. Blight
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)
You can read more about the four finalists here. To see all the books that were nominated, plus eight books that received commendation from the judges, go here.
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.
More than 225 established and aspiring biographers from three continents immersed themselves in their craft at the Ninth Annual Biographers International Organization Conference, held May 18 and 19, at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Along with the announcement of the Plutarch Award for 2018, conference highlights included a keynote address by Richard Holmes, winner of the 2018 BIO Award, and a discussion between Edmund Morris and Sylvia Jukes Morris, who shared their experiences writing about both living and dead subjects. [more]
Scenes from the 2018 BIO Conference:
Robert Caro introduces the winners of the first Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowships. Photo by Jane O’Connor
Stacy Schiff and Griffin Dunne appeared together on a panel called “On the Screen and on the Page.” Photo by Barbara Lehman Smith
Kitty Kelley and Joe Hagan appeared together on a panel called “The Antagonist.” Photo by Barbara Lehman Smith
Caroline Fraser won the 2018 Plutarch Award for Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The book had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, among other honors. Fraser received her award at the ninth annual BIO Conference on May 20.
The Plutarch is the world’s only literary award given to biography by biographers. Named after the famous Ancient Greek biographer, the Plutarch is determined by secret ballot from a formal list of nominees selected by a committee of distinguished members of the craft. The award comes with a $1,000 honorarium.
BIO’s Plutarch Award Committee for 2018 was:
Anne C. Heller, chair
Brian Jay Jones
J.W. (Hans) Renders
Will Swift, ex-officio
You can find out more information about the Plutarch Award here.
BIO’s Plutarch Award Committee has chosen the four books highlighted below as the finalists for this year’s Plutarch Award, the only international literary award for a biography that is chosen by fellow biographers. BIO members will have three months to read the finalists and vote for the winner. The Plutarch Award will be presented on Saturday, May 19, at the Ninth Annual BIO Conference in New York.
To see a list of the nominees for 2018 and learn more about the Plutarch Award, go here.
Ali: A Life, by Jonathan Eig, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Eig interviewed nearly everyone still living who knew Muhammed Ali, including his ex-wives, and crafted those interviews, along with much additional primary source material, into a deft, enlightening, and enlivening narrative of the life of an American icon.
Richard Nixon: The Life, by John A. Farrell, Doubleday: In an elegantly written, expertly researched, and commanding narrative of the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, John A. Farrell has created in a single volume a rich and deeply affecting portrait of perhaps the most complex, fascinating, and darkest of American presidents.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser, Metropolitan: Fraser’s work is both a haunting depiction of Laura Ingall Wilder’s life, work, and collaboration with her flamboyant, unstable daughter, the writer Rose Wilder Lane, and a surprising history of how the pioneer experience led to American conservative values. Fraser demonstrates that literary history is woven into the very fabric and destiny of the nation.
Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror, by Victor Sebestyen, Pantheon: The first major biography in English of Vladimir Lenin in twenty years, Victor Sebestyen’s riveting work draws on newly available archives and the author’s gift for sustaining a highly suspenseful narrative to present a far-reaching and very human portrait of the father of the Russian Communist state.
Ruth Franklin received the 2017 Plutarch Award from Plutarch Award Committee chair John A. Farrell.
Ruth Franklin won the 2017 Plutarch Award for Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Members of Biographers International Organization selected the winning book, which was announced at the Eighth Annual BIO Conference on May 20 at Emerson College in Boston. The Shirley Jackson bio had previously won several other honors, most notably the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography.
Offering her thanks for the award, Franklin said, “It’s really humbling to receive an award named after Plutarch.” She said that before this year’s event in Boston, she looked back at her notes from past conferences and realized how much she had learned from so many of the people with her in the room. Being part of BIO and a women’s biographers group in New York has shown her, “We aren’t in any way alone in what we do.”
At her first BIO Conference in 2014, Franklin said, she was too shy and intimidated to introduce herself to the big-name biographers she found herself surrounded by; she just “gazed adoringly” at Stacy Schiff, that year’s BIO Award winner, which Franklin joked might have led Schiff to believe she was a stalker. Now, Franklin is preparing an interview with Schiff for the Paris Review. She said she and Schiff discussed how there’s no instruction manual for biographers, everyone approaches the craft a little differently, and that biographers “all have to learn from each other.”
The Plutarch Award Committee originally chose ten semi-finalists before selecting four finalists for the 2017 prize. The other finalists were:
- Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey by Frances Wilson
- Hitler: Ascent, 1889–1939 by Volker Ullrich, translated by Jefferson Chase
- Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas
You can see the complete list of this year’s semi-finalists and past winners here
A distinguished panel of judges made up of members of Biographers International Organization (BIO) has selected the four finalists for the 2017 Plutarch Award. The Plutarch is the only international literary award presented to a biography by biographers. BIO members around the world will now vote for the winning biography from among those four distinguished books, honoring a writer who has achieved distinction in the craft. The winner will be announced on May 20 at the Eighth Annual BIO Conference at Emerson College in Boston.
To see the four finalists, go here.