Archive for May, 2013

2013 BIO Conference

Docent-led tour at the New York Public Library

Docent-led tour at the New York Public Library

Last weekend I attended the fourth annual Biographers International Organization (BIO) Annual Conference held in New York City. This year more than 225 biographers gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel to discuss research, writing, book reviews, social media, and a host of other topics.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel entitled “Crafting Biography” featuring three biographers – Kate Buford, David Stewart, and Marc Leepson – who among them have written more than a dozen books. My favorite tidbit from this panel was from Marc Leepson. He does not sleep with a notebook by his side to capture all those brilliant late night ideas. Instead, he uses his phone to send himself e-mails about his words of wisdom. Why didn’t I think of that?

For those that lament the obstacles of finishing a book, feel sorry for yourselves no longer. Amanda Foreman, award-winning author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, managed to finish her second book, A World on Fire, with five children under five and a husband diagnosed with cancer. She regaled the audience with tales of how she accomplished this feat including how she had to return her original advance and find another publisher.  I will never complain again.

The conference isn’t just about what you learn, but who you meet. On Friday, I took a research tour of several libraries with our guide, Nancy Goldstone. At the New York Public Library I learned about the Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Papers, and have since found correspondence between him and the subject of my next book, Nicholas Katzenbach. One letter in particular provided me with a timeframe for a William Safire column I have tried to track down. I was off by about a decade, no wonder why I couldn’t find it?!?

Networking is another perk of BIO. At the conference I met fellow writer Steve Weinberg who is writing about Garry Trudeau. I did a slew of research about the evolution of Lacey Davenport, most of which I didn’t include in my book due to space constraints. Now, however, I plan to give the Lacey research to Weinberg so it can be put to good use. And for me, Weinberg offered to put me in touch with his father who was in the same POW camp, Stalag Luft III, as Nicholas Katzenbach during World War II. I’m always surprised by the bountiful serendipity that occurs at BIO.

Katherine Hourigan, Knopf’s managing editor, accepted the Plutarch Award on behalf of Robert Caro.

Katherine Hourigan, Knopf’s managing editor, accepted the Plutarch Award on behalf of Robert Caro.

I could go on and on about all the connections made, but I don’t want to bore the reader. So I’ll conclude where the conference ended, awarding the first Plutarch Award to Robert Caro for The Passage of Power, his fourth volume on President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Ironically, Caro was in Texas doing research for his next LBJ volume so one of his editors, Katherine Hourigan from Knopf, accepted the award on his behalf. Well-deserved.




The Lusitania

LusitaniaAfter a long hiatus, Six Degrees of Millicent is back. And it’s only appropriate that there is a connection between today, May 7, and Millicent Fenwick. To historians and trivia lovers May 7, 1915 is the day a German U-Boat torpedoed the Lusitania, a British luxury liner. To Millicent Fenwick it was the day she lost her mother.

Her parents were among nearly 2,000 people who set sail on the Lusitania for the cross-Atlantic voyage from New York to Liverpool, England. Like the Titanic, the Lusitania was the biggest and best of its day. Unlike the Titanic, there were warnings that danger lay ahead. The Germany Embassy took out an ad in the New York Times warning passengers not to sail on the Lusitania because “a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies  … and travelers sailing in the war zone … do so at their own risk.“

Despite the warnings, Millicent’s mother, Mary Picton Stevens, would not alter her travel plans. She did, however, draft and sign a will prior to her departure. Millicent’s father, Ogden, tried to change his wife’s mind but to no avail. Realizing she was going no matter what, Ogden accompanied his wife as he didn’t want her to make the journey alone. As fate would have it, Mary was among the nearly 1,200 dead and her loyal husband, Ogden, survived. Millicent was just five-years-old when her mother died leaving a gaping hole in her young life.

In the current issue of Smithsonian there is an article about “8 Famous People Who Missed the Lusitania” and Millicent is included in that story. To read more about her and the other famous people who were not aboard the Lusitania that fateful day visit: