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

RICHARD HOLMES EXPLORES THE VALUE OF "A HANDSHAKE ACROSS TIME" (TBC REPORT)

Holmes used this image to illustrate biography's "handshake." (By permission of Richard Holmes)
In fifty years of writing biography, the innovative and prolific Richard Holmes has become known to his fellow practitioners as "a biographer's biographer" for his reflections on the art and craft of biography (Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer and Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer). At the 2014 annual Leon Levy Center Lecture in New York, he shared some of his insights with a rapt audience.

       Holmes was about eighteen when he decided to hike through the Cèvennes in an effort to retrace the route Robert Louis Stevenson had taken with his donkey Modestine in 1878. Showing the audience a picture of two pages in a lined spiral notebook, he explained  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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WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? Lucy Knight on the Importance of "Firsts"

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    Read More 
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