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~ Writing a Biography ~ STALKING THE ELEPHANTAbout Writing Biography and Imagining a Life

JOHN MATTESON: CHOOSING A SUBJECT AND WHY WE WRITE

A couple of weeks ago I attended a terrific panel discussion by four extremely able biographers to hear them kick around one of my most favorite and least resolvable topics: "Is Biography True?"

    I've posted a report on the event here. Since there wasn't space to consider all the interesting and thought-provoking things that were said, I urge you to view the video that one of the sponsors, the Center for the Study of Transformative Lives, has posted on its website. If you're a biographer, I guarantee you'll get something out of it. More reflections inspired by the discussionSHOULD WRITING BE FUN?, • WRITING AROUND THE HOLES.

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    Here, I'd like to share some more of what John Matteson, author of Eden's Outcasts, a study of Louisa May Alcott and her father, and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Lives of Margaret Fuller.

    Here's Matteson's advice to the perplexed on choosing a subject—and on dealing with criticism:

    Matteson: I think it's important to try to resist the pressures of the marketplace. I would be terribly surprised if anybody up here or anybody in this room wrote about someone just because they're popular....One chooses one's topic out of something very deeply internal and the desire to understand the experiences and struggles of a particular individual because that person somehow just matters to you.

    When Eden's Outcasts came out...Publisher's Weekly came out with a review that was really kind of skunky....And my daughter, who was then thirteen, sat me down and she said, "Dad, you did not write your book so that Publisher's Weekly would like it. You wrote it because you had something to say that no one else was ever going to say if you didn't say it." And it's the best advice I've ever had as a writer, and I treasure it to this day.


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