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

"THE BOTTLE DIGGERS," A POEM (NOT MINE) ABOUT LOOKING INTO LIVES

Dumpdiggers, by Rob Campbell
  Every so often something comes along to remind me that this blog is about more than just writing a biography. It's also about using what we know (not only from research but from life) to imagine other lives: lives that actually happened, lives that were part of history. To me, it's one of the most satisfying things about writing biography.

  The title poem of The Bottle Diggers, a new collection by the poet Andrea Fry, blew me away because it so perfectly evokes  Read More 
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WRITING AROUND THE HOLES

How to get around missing pieces?
A couple of years ago, I posted a report about a Biographers International conference panel on the "black holes" in biography, or areas of missing information.

    Another conversation a few weeks ago, this one moderated by James Atlas and carried on by three noted biographers, Ron Chernow, John Matteson, and Stacy Schiff, reminded me again of the "missing pieces" biographers have to anticipate—or, just as often, can't anticipate—on their way to writing a definitive biography. (For the likelihood of doing that, see the conclusion of "THE TRUTH": BIOGRAPHY'S MOVING TARGET.) More reflections inspired by the discussion: • JOHN MATTESON: CHOOSING A SUBJECT AND WHY WE WRITE, • SHOULD WRITING BE FUN?

    Below are some of the things the panelists had to say about this perennially interesting topic.  Read More 
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SO WHAT'S THE STORY?

"Unwritten Story" (© Reproduced by permission of Hiroko Yoshimoto.)
That joke in the sidebar about the sculptor and the elephant may be an old saw (no pun intended), but it's a perfect analogy for carving a story from what may at first seem a daunting and, often, seemingly disconnected body of research.

    Being able to define and project a story about the subject is among the biographer's first and most urgent tasks. For one thing, even in the early stages, having at least a hypothesis about the particular story you want to tell is the best way to get a grip on all that research. If only for that reason, understanding what "story" means for biography is critical.  Read More 
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IS THERE A "BIOGRAPHER'S IMAGINATION"?

A few years back, biographers were dismayed when critics lambasted biography for "pathography" and “sensationalism.” Everyone seemed to be getting tarred with the same brush. That view has evidently gone out of fashion, since for now, at least, we are more likely to read that we live in "a golden age of biography."

On the other hand, professional historians in the United States have long regarded biography, a literary hybrid with one foot in history and the other in the tradition of imaginative narrative literature, in somewhat the same way that Mr. Rochester's well-bred friends in Jane Eyre viewed Adele, his flamboyant ward—unreliable, showy, and of suspect lineage: something to be shunned, or at least avoided, by polite society.  Read More 
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