Dona Munker: Writing a Biography

      ~ Writing a Biography ~
      STALKING THE ELEPHANT
      About Writing Biography and Imagining a Life

THE WRITING LIFE: BIOGRAPHY AS RORSCHACH TEST

November 26, 2012

Tags: Stacy Schiff, The writing life

Rorschach Inkblot No. 9 (Wikipedia)
Usually on Sunday morning I open the New York Times and go straight to the Styles section, where the "Social IQs" column is. "Social IQs" gives advice to the socially perplexed, and reading it gives me hope of becoming the polite, perspicacious, socially intelligent human being I imagine its author, Philip Galanes, to be. Yesterday, however, (more…)

Interview: DEIRDRE BAIR ON STEINBERG, CAPONE, AND CHOOSING A SUBJECT (TBC INTERVIEW)

November 19, 2012

Tags: Choosing a subject, Deirdre Bair, TBC reports

This week, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday will publish Deirdre Bair's Saul Steinberg: A Biography, the first biography of the New York artist whose beloved, ferociously funny New Yorker cartoons are now icons of American satire. (Think "View of the World from 9th Avenue," his famous 1976 map of the United States as seen by parochial New Yorkers.) I interviewed Bair for the monthly newsletter of Biographers International. An adapted version of that conversation appears here. (more…)

WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? Lucy Knight on the Importance of "Firsts"

November 16, 2012

Tags: Good ideas, Louise W. Knight, Richard Holmes

Louise (Lucy) W. Knight is the author of two biographies of Jane Addams and principal of Knight Consulting, a non-profit consulting firm.

"WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?" invites published biographers and writers of nonfiction to discuss the ideas and insights that have been important to them or helped them solve one of the many challenges of writing, research, and the nonfiction writer's life. Has something helped you as a biographer or nonfiction writer? Send in a comment.

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    I think a lot (and by "a lot" I mean all the time) about the life of my subject and how I'm telling her story. My friend Louise (Lucy) W. Knight, who's written not one but two fine books about the great social worker Jane Addams, recently told me about an epiphany she once had about telling the story of a life, an epiphany that came from reading the first volume of Richard Holmes' biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It both deepened her thinking about Jane Addams' life story and increased her confidence as a narrator. I've asked her to describe it here.           —Dona Munker    (more…)

GETTING ORGANIZED, 1: WE BRING ORDER TO CHAOS

November 13, 2012

Tags: Research


    Whether you're writing your first biography or your tenth, a simple yet flexible filing system can make storing and accessing information simpler, help you remember things, and generally make writing a book a lot easier. This post is the first of two about setting up a computer filing system for primary research in a biography. Or, as the Borg Queen on Star Trek might say, it's about bringing order to chaos. (more…)

    AND NOW, A WORD ABOUT FILING. AGAIN.

    November 10, 2012

    Tags: Research

    One of the occupational hazards of writing biography is that you may develop an intense preoccupation with—well, with filing.

    This is a sort of dirty professional secret akin to wanting to know about the inner workings of mechanical clocks. All any normal person who isn't a clockmaker really wants to know is (more…)

    DEPARTMENT OF CURRENT EVENTS

    November 10, 2012

    Tags: Beverly Gray

    Beverly Gray
    This trenchant comment on the Petraeus affair just in from film biographer Beverly Gray:

    "So David Petraeus is resigning because he slept with his biographer. I'd say here's a case where she got a little too close to her subject."

    DO YOU HAVE TO "LIKE" THE SUBJECT YOU PICK?

    November 6, 2012

    Tags: Choosing a subject, Deirdre Bair

    Deirdre Bair. What does "like" mean?
    Biographers are often asked whether they "like" the person they've chosen as a subject, or some version of that question. The implication is that if one is going to be stranded on the desert island of research with another human being for years on end, one had damn well better be able to enjoy his or her company, and be able to make the reader enjoy it for five hundred pages, too. (more…)

    HELLO AGAIN....

    November 5, 2012

    If you looked at the date of my last post for October and noticed that there's a year missing between it and the first post for November, it's not you; it's me.

    I was away doing other things, including a bit of recalibrating of my own Elephant, a.k.a., SARA AND ERSKINE, (more…)

    FOLLOWING UP FOR A LITERARY GIANT

    November 3, 2012

    Tags: "A Problem of Churchillian Proportions" (link to)

    Paul Reid.
    What could be more daunting for a writer than standing in for one of the twentieth century's most admired and popular biographers, especially when the biographer was an idol and a close friend?

    Chosen to write the third and final volume of The Last Lion, the late William Manchester's biography (more…)

    JAMES MCGRATH MORRIS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF BIOGRAPHY

    November 1, 2012

    Tags: James McGrath Morris (Author)

    James McGrath Morris
    Worth reading: An interview with journalist and biographer James McGrath Morris takes a look at the current publishing scene in biography. Morris, the founder of Biographers International, is the author of Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power and The Rose Man of Sing-Sing. (Thanks to blogger Beverly Gray for the pass-along.)


        The disciple of a famous sculptor came upon his master carving an elephant from a huge, shapeless chunk of stone. "Master," cried the disciple, "What splendor! What realism! What insight! How do you do it?" "Simple," replied the sculptor. "You just cut away everything that isn't elephant."

        Stalking the Elephant is a blog about creating an elephant from a chunk of stone, a.k.a. writing a biography.

        It's also about the biographer's writing life (well, mine, anyway) and a work in progress, SARA AND ERSKINE, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE. This is an intimate reconstruction of the life of SARA BARD FIELD, a World War One-era minister's wife, suffragist, and poet, and her extraordinary affair with an outspoken attorney, philosophical anarchist, and Renaissance man CHARLES ERSKINE SCOTT WOOD.

    Subscribing is easy.

        This couple takes up a lot of time (not to mention a lot of oxygen), and since I don't have a regular posting schedule, the best way to receive updates is to sign up to be notified when I post something new.

         Here's how: On the blog page, click on the RSS button of your browser. (In Firefox: Go to the Bookmarks menu and select "Subscribe to This Page.") You can then check to see if there's been an update in the RSS feed of your browser's toolbar.




    Visit the RESOURCES page and take advantage of a growing list of links, blogs, and books for anyone interested in biography and writing lives.


      Sidebar Photo Credit: Elephant Country Web


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