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Gems from Biographers' International 2021 Zoom conference

Links to BIO's excellent notes on what was discussed on various topics at the 2021 Zoom conference of Biographers International Organization (BIO):

 

One Subject, Three Ways: Agatha Christie Moderator Laurie Gwen Shapiro kicked off the session with the question, "How does the form chosen to tell a subject's life shape its content?" In this case, the subject was Agatha Christie. Exploring Shapiro's question were three panelists Zooming in from England and France

 

The Art and Technology of Interviewing Moderator James McGrath Morris and panelists Claudia Dreifus, Brian Jay Jones, and John Brady presented similar views about successful interviewing in this panel. They agreed that a biographer should find out as much as they can about the interviewee and be equally prepared when something unexpected arises in the conversation and pursue that topic. 

 

Researching Underdocumented Lives This panel continued the morning's plenary discussion, delving deeper into the particular challenges and rewards of researching overlooked and marginalized lives, particularly people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ. Moderator Kavita Das kicked off the discussion by asking what drew the panelists to their subjects.

 

How to Pay for It, or Funding Your Biography Moderator Heath Lee started the session by noting that advances, even from major publishers, have been declining in recent years, and she hoped the panel (Carla Kaplan, Mark Silver, and Steve Hindle) would help biographers find other ways to finance their work.

 

Writing the First Biography of Your Subject Panelists Justin Gifford, Abigail Santamaria, and Carol Sklenicka, along with moderator Debby Applegate, explored some of the challenges and rewards of writing the first biography of a subject. With Raymond "Carver, Sklenicka heard there was a 'big rift' between his two former wives, which may have put off potential biographers. Publishers like to know that you have the cooperation of a subject's family or estate, but she said the lack of it is not necessarily a roadblock."


Swipe Right for Your Subject: How Do You Know It's the Right One?  Moderator Gayle Feldman asked panelists Mary Dearborn, Eric K. Washington, and Gerald Howard how they have chosen their subjects, quoting Jean Strouse: "If you want to do biography the right way, and get it right, you'd better have chosen the right subject." 


What Biographers Can Learn from Obituary Writers Along with Margalit Fox, moderator Bruce Weber and panelists Adam Bernstein and William McDonald have all written and/or edited obituaries.  Obits are "not the whole life" but "the kernel is there," making an obituary "a really good first stop" for a biographer.


Do I Know Enough? Navigating the Relationship Between Research and Writing Both Kai Bird, author of a recent biography of Jimmy Carter, and 2017 BIO Award-winner Candice Millard, working on a book on the search for the headwaters of the Nile, agreed on the need for extensive amounts of research before beginning to write, but once they reached that point, the two writers couldn't be farther apart on how they work.

 

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