The 2023 Hazel Rowley Prize honoring the best book proposal by a first-time biographer has been awarded to Alec Pollak, who is at work on a biography of the American writer Joanna Russ.
This year’s Rowley Prize Committee was comprised of Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina (chair), Carl Rollyson, and Paula Whitacre. Of this year’s award, Gerzina said, “Our committee unanimously selected Alec Pollak’s proposal for a biography of Joanna Russ, which was very well-written and compelling, and a story we had not known before.”
The Rowley Prize has been awarded since 2014; Pollak is the ninth recipient. The prize will be given at the 2023 BIO Conference in New York City on May 19.
BIO encourages all members to review its four fellowships, now accepting applications for 2023. Please share information about the Rollin Fellowship, the Chip Bishop Fellowship, and the Rowley Prize, which are open to nonmembers, with your friends, colleagues, and networks.
Please note that the amounts have increased from $3,000 to $5,000 for both the Rollin Fellowship and Rowley Prize, and the number of recipients has increased from one to two for the Rollin Fellowship and from two to four for the Caro Fellowship. These increased benefits, which BIO will sustain for at least five years, are thanks to gifts from Kitty Kelley and other generous friends of BIO.
- The Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship awards $5,000 each to two authors 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. Applications are due February 1, 2023. More information about the fellowship is available here.
- The Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship awards funding to as many as four authors working on biographical works for research trips to archives or to important settings in their subjects’ lives. The deadline for applications is February 1, 2023. Learn more here.
- The Chip Bishop Fellowship awards $1,000 to one recipient for for travel expenses, including transportation costs and child care, needed to attend the BIO Conference. The deadline for applications is April 1, 2023. Learn more here.
- The Hazel Rowley Prize awards $5,000 to a first-time biographer whose book proposal shows exceptional merit. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2023. Click here for more information.
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.
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.
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.
Photo by Fid Thompson
Tanya Paperny is the 2021 winner of BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize for her proposal for Tender/Fierce: The Life and Death of My Revolutionary Prababushka. The committee was impressed by Paperny’s gripping prose about an important story of political tyranny that has been little told from a biographical perspective. “In 1938, my great-grandmother Tatiana Ivanovna Shatalova-Rabinovich was executed by the Soviet secret police and dumped in a mass grave where hundreds would soon lie,” Paperny writes. “In her too-short life, she organized the release of political prisoners, co-edited radical pamphlets, and intersected with the famed Leon Trotsky, a man also killed by a Stalinist agent. This biography will be among the first English-language works written by a descendent of Stalin’s victims.”
Paperny is a writer and artist based in Washington, D.C. She earned an MFA in nonfiction and literary translation from Columbia University, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and numerous other publications.
The Rowley Prize, worth $2,000, goes to a first-time biographer and also includes a careful reading from an established agent; a year’s membership in BIO and registration to the annual conference; and publicity for the author and project. The prize is a way for BIO—an organization of biographers, agents, editors, and biography devotees—to advance its mission and extend its reach to talented new practitioners. You can see a list of past winners here.
BIO gives the prize in memory of Hazel Rowley (1951–2011), born in London, educated in England and Australia, and a long-time resident of the United States. A BIO enthusiast from its inception, Rowley understood the need for biographers to help and support one another. Before her untimely death, she had written four acclaimed biographies. Rowley was a passionate advocate for the art and craft of biography, a writer of exacting standards, and a generous friend to fellow biographers.
Hazel Rowley was a BIO enthusiast since its inception.
BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize is given to the author of an exceptional book proposal for a full-length biography. In addition to a $2,000 award, the winner will have their proposal evaluated by an established literary agent. They will also receive a year’s membership in BIO, along with registration for the annual BIO Conference, and publicity for the author and project through the BIO website, The Biographer’s Craft newsletter, and social media. The prize is part of how BIO advances its mission and extends its reach to talented new writers in the genre. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2021. Here is more information on how to apply and here is more about biographer Hazel Rowley (1951–2011).
Jay Prosser is the 2020 winner of BIO’s Hazel Rowley Prize for his proposal for Empire’s Loving Strangers: Journeys Through an Asian-Jewish Camphorwood Chest, a biography that explores one Jewish family’s experiences and connections across empires and centuries. Prosser is a reader in humanities at the University of Leeds in England, where he has taught since 1999. His book was previously shortlisted for the Tony Lothian Prize for the best unpublished biography, which is given by the Biographer’s Club.
The Rowley Prize, worth $2,000, goes to a first-time biographer and also includes a careful reading from an established agent; a year’s membership in BIO and registration to the annual conference; and publicity for the author and project. The prize is a way for BIO—an organization of biographers, agents, editors, and biography devotees—to advance its mission and extend its reach to talented new practitioners.
BIO gives the prize in memory of Hazel Rowley (1951–2011), born in London, educated in England and Australia, and a longtime resident of the United States. A BIO enthusiast from its inception, Rowley understood the need for biographers to help and support one another. Before her untimely death, she had written four acclaimed biographies. Rowley was a passionate advocate for the art and craft of biography, a writer of exacting standards, and a generous friend to fellow biographers.
Carla Kaplan, chair of the 2020 Hazel Rowley Prize Committee, interviewed Prosser about his project via email, which you can see here.
Barbara Fisher, winner of the 2019 Hazel Rowley Prize.
Biographers International Organization (BIO) is now accepting applications for the Hazel Rowley Prize. The prize rewards a biography book proposal from a first-time biographer with: funding (a $2,000 award); a careful reading from an established agent; one year’s membership in BIO (along with registration to the annual conference); and publicity for the author and project through the BIO website, The Biographer’s Craft newsletter, etc. The prize is a way for BIO—an organization of biographers, agents, editors, and biography devotees—to advance its mission and extend its reach to talented new practitioners.
The prize is open to all first-time biographers anywhere in the world who are writing in English; who are working on a biography that has not been commissioned, contracted, or self-published; and who have never published a book-length biography, history, or work of narrative nonfiction. Biography is defined for this prize as a narrative of an individual’s life or the story of a group of lives. Innovative ways of treating a life (or lives) will be considered at the committee’s discretion. Memoirs, however, are not eligible. The deadline for applying is March 1, 2020 . You can find more information about the prize and the application process.