Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

2015 BIO Conference

Bio-Logo_Black2-500x193Yesterday, the Biographers International Organization (BIO) got off to a great start with pre-conference activities including information sessions at the Library of Congress, a docent-led tour of the Library of Congress by yours truly, and a lovely welcome reception at the home Kitty Kelley. Other biographers in attendance included BIO President Brian Jay Jones, Vice-President Cathy Curtis, Barbara Burkhardt and Robin Rausch (conference co-shairs), Douglas Brinkley, Evan Thomas, Nigel Hamilton, Mike Lennon, and more.

At the reception, Thomas Mann received the Biblio Award, which is given annually to an archivist, or librarian, who has gone above and beyond in assisting biographers with their research — providing essential assistance as we endeavor to tell the stories of people’s lives. Although Tom retired in January after 33 years at the Library of Congress he can be found in the main reading room on Saturdays, where he still assists researchers, just in a volunteer capacity. He is one of the many treasures at the Library and many attending last night’s reception could attest first-hand to his helpfulness, myself included.  Oxford University Press recently published the fourth edition of his book Oxford Guide to Library Research. It’s a great resource for writers.

Today the BIO Conference gets underway at the National Press Club with Evan Thomas and Douglas Brinkley discussing the Art and Craft of Biography. Taylor Branch will deliver the luncheon keynote address. He is the recipient of this year’s BIO Award.

And in between there are a host of workshops including the one below. It’s my first speaking engagement about my biography of Nicholas Katzenbach. It’s not done yet, but getting closer. If you have not registered for the conference, it’s not too late as they are accepting on-site registration. For more info click the BIO tab in the blog header. Hope to see you later!

Writing About Someone You Know 

11:00AM–12:15PM LOCATION: BLOOMBERG

Writing a biography is never easy, but does it make a difference if you know your subject? Perhaps you’re writing about a family member, a neighbor, or a former boss. Maybe you’ve met your subject in the course of researching and writing. Does a personal connection help smooth your path when it comes to approaching sources and gaining insights? Or does familiarity create its own pitfalls? How can you take advantage of your privileged position while still holding onto your artistic independence?

Moderator 

Barbara Burkhardt ’s William Maxwell: A Literary Life (University of Illinois Press, 2005; paperback, 2008), a biography of the longtime New Yorker editor and novelist, received praise in The New York Times, TLS, The Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune, among other periodicals. She subsequently edited Conversations with William Maxwell (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). Burkhardt is associate professor emerita of American literature at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she was named University Scholar in 2007. A founding member of BIO, she has served on the BIO board for three years as its secretary. She is at work on a biography of Garrison Keillor under contract to St. Martin’s Press.

 

Panelists 

Beverly Gray , who once developed 170 low-budget features for B-movie maven Roger Corman, is the author of the best-selling Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking. Tastefully retitled Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, it is now available (as both e-book and paperback) in an updated and unexpurgated third edition. Gray has also published Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon . . . and Beyond. She teaches online screenwriting workshops for UCLA Extension’s renowned Writers’ Program. Her blog, Beverly in Movieland, covers movies, moviemaking, and growing up Hollywood-adjacent.

Michael Lennon is president of the Norman Mailer Society. He teaches in the Wilkes University low-residency M.F.A. program and is the author of Norman Mailer: A Double Life (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Most recently, he edited Selected Letters of Norman Mailer (Random House, 2014). He also wrote the introduction to the new illustrated Taschen edition, JFK: Mailer’s “Superman Comes to the Supermarket.” His work has appeared in the Paris Review, The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Provincetown Arts,  Creative Nonfiction, New York, and Playboy, among others.

Amy Schapiro is the author of Millicent Fenwick: Her Way, a biography of the New Jersey congresswoman best remembered as the pipe-smoking grandmother who served as the model for Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury character Lacey Davenport and whom Walter Cronkite dubbed the “Conscience of Congress”. Schapiro is currently working on her next book, Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach. She has appeared on C-Span/BookTV, NPR, WOR, and WABC.

BIO Announces Hazel Rowley Prize – Deadline January 31, 2014

Bio-Logo_Black2-500x193 It’s still January and there’s still plenty of time to keep all those new year’s resolutions you made. My new year’s resolution is that this will be the year of the book, which for me means finishing the Katzenbach biography.

But for all those aspiring first-time authors, the Biographers International Organization (BIO) is offering a once in a lifetime opportunity for a future biographer (and I’m on a committee to help raise awareness about this new award so here goes it). BIO has named a prize after BIO member Hazel Rowley (1951-2011), an author of several biographies including Tȇte-à-Tȇte: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, translated into twelve languages.

The Hazel Rowley prize is intended for first-time biographers and will award the prize to the best proposal for a first time biography. The purpose of this award is to provide new biographers an opportunity to have their proposal read by an agent who will bring the winning proposal to the attention of editors and publishers who are actively seeking to publish biography.  The Prize also includes $2,000 in prize money.

The winner of the BIO/Hazel Rowley Prize for Best Proposal for a First Biography will be announced at BIO’s fifth annual conference in Boston on May 17, 2014.

The deadline for applying is January 31, 2014. See details about the prize and eligibility guidelines at http://biographersinternational.org/rowley-prize/

 And for more information about BIO, a grassroots organization of writers, educators, publishing experts, readers and others who support the art and craft of biography please visit: www.biographersinternational.org

Good luck!

 

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.

 

 

A Gathering to Honor Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach

Last week on the summer solstice, June 21, the Katzenbach family held a memorial service in Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University to celebrate the life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, former attorney general. Everything about the memorial was an apt reflection of the man who passed away on May 8, 2012 at the age of 90.

His quick wit, sense of humor, and decency were on display for all to see through the memories of his friends and family. There was so much laughter in Richardson Auditorium that day that if you didn’t know better you would have thought you walked into a comedy club not a memorial service.

It was only fitting that the memorial was held at Princeton University, his alma mater, and an academic institution for which he cared deeply about, spending years on its Boards of Trustees and also providing pro bono legal services on occasion. Former Princeton President Bill Bowen was the first to pay homage to the man no longer among us. “He was truly ‘one of a kind’: a gentle giant of a man, as kind, compassionate and humorous as he was brilliant,” said Bowen.

Following Bowen were three lifelong friends, all of whom had known Katzenbach for a half-century or more – Herb Sturz, Jack Rosenthal, and Ward Chamberlin, the latter of whom had known Katzenbach since their teenage years at Exeter. He regaled the crowd with stories of a European adventure they took following high school graduation. They went on a biking tour of France and wouldn’t you know it, it happened to coincide with the Tour de France. The boys tried to ride ahead of the pack (avoiding several miles and towns on the route) so they could arrive at the next layover ahead of the cyclists, but hoping to be mistaken for them.

One of the most memorable stories was told by Jack Rosenthal. He recounted a visit Katzenbach made to the LBJ Ranch in which President Johnson took his guests deer hunting. Katzenbach was not thrilled about the prospect. He was not a hunter. “And then,” as Rosenthal told it, “inspiration struck. Katzenbach said, ‘Mr. President, as much as I’d like to shoot a deer, I don’t think I should, I don’t have a Texas hunting license.’” This was particularly problematic given his position, as attorney general and he didn’t want to violate the law. LBJ responded, “You know, I never thought of that.” Both Katzenbach and a deer were spared.

The three friends were followed by Katzenbach’s four children, as different as can be, but all inherited Katzenbach’s wit and knack for storytelling. The last of his children to speak was his daughter, Mimi. Her theatrical background and stage presence commanded attention. She explained why there was a Bloodgood Maple tree on the stage. The answer can be traced to the Revolutionary War and Katzenbach’s namesake, Dr. Nicholas deBelleville.  As she said, goodness flowed through his veins. During the Battle of Trenton, Dr. deBelleville ordered both sides to carry their wounded to a bloodgood maple tree in the middle of the battlefield and he treated them all. “Like his namesake on the battlefield,” said Mimi, “Dad did not discriminate among those who are wounded in the fight for freedom and justice.”

After the service everyone retired to the Prospect House, a Victorian mansion in the center of campus, which once housed Princeton University presidents such as Woodrow Wilson. At the Prospect House friends, family and colleagues from as far back as Katzenbach’s days in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations to his tenure as general counsel at IBM, and beyond, mingled and reminisced about the man who not only impacted the hundreds in attendance, but also this nation.

Panchito

One lesson I learned years ago is how warm and welcoming the aviation community is, and, I experienced that again today, as did the crowd at Andrews Air Force Base who turned out for the Joint Services Open House & Air Show.

The aerial show was spectacular and included performances by aerobatic Hall of Famer Sean Tucker, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, and the Navy’s world reknown Blue Angels, but that’s not why I went.

I went to Andrews to meet Panchito, a 68-year-old bomber. Panchito is a B-25J and Nicholas Katzenbach was shot down in an earlier version of the B-25, a B-25C. I’ve read all about B-25s and their famous Doolittle Raid over Japan, but I’d never seen a B-25 in person.

When I arrived at the air show, Sean Tucker was dazzling the crowd with his barrel rolls, loops, and dives. My visit was already off to a good start. With dozens of aircrafts on the tarmac I asked someone in a golf cart which way the B-25 was and I ended up getting a lift. Lucky for me as Panchito was at the other end of the field.

Seeing a B-25 in person is quite different than seeing one in pictures. B-25s are a medium sized twin-engine bomber used during WWII. While it seems large from the outside (with a wingspan of nearly 68 feet), inside it seems miniscule.

Yes, that’s right I got to climb inside this warbird thanks to Larry Kelley who heads up Panchito’s flight team. He knew who Nicholas Katzenbach was, but didn’t realize he was shot down in a B-25. With that, the welcome mat was extended and a narrow staircase was pulled down from the front of the plane. Here’s some unsolicited advice, don’t wear a dress and don’t wear sandals. I wore both. None-the-less I made it up the narrow ladder and giant steps with guidance from Larry.

While the bomber looks large from outside, inside is another story. It seemed cramped to me and I’m a foot shorter than Katzenbach. The cockpit was tight, with the pilot and co-pilots’ seats closer than I thought. The body of the plane isn’t wide and to get to the gunner position one has to crawl into the nose, I didn’t do that.

Behind the cockpit was a section that Larry told me would have been outfitted for the navigator in the B-25C (Larry knew all the slight modifications between the B-25C and B-25J). Even more remarkable, he had a copy of the original B-25C Maintenance Manual complete with diagrams, photographs, and text. In the manual we were able to see the type of folding navigator table and stool that Katzenbach would have used. Just when I thought chapter two was done, I now need to go back and infuse some of this amazing information I gleaned today. I literally was on cloud nine. While I beamed, Panchito’s metallic skin shined under the sunlight.

Thanks to Larry Kelley for the impromptu cockpit tour, and his son, crew member Josh Kelley, and crew photographer, Richard Allnutt.

It should also be noted that while the Panchito crew shares this warbird with the public they do so for a good cause; Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The Panchito crew offers rides and raises money so DAV can provide free services to our nation’s veterans, assisting them in obtaining medical care and benefits they’ve earned and deserved. For more information, visit: www.dav.org

Thanks again and happy flying!

USA Today Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

  1. In case you missed it, I had a column in the USA Today over the weekend about Nicholas Katzenbah.  I hope you enjoy !

Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

By Amy Schapiro

Updated 2d 15h ago
Tuesday night, this country lost one of its national heroes. For those who grew up in the ’60s, Nicholas Katzenbach, who was 90, was a household name. For today’s generation, it is a forgotten name. Yet the lives we lead today would be drastically different if it weren’t for the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965. Katzenbach was one of the key architects behind that legislation and more.
  • In this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.By Calvin Hannah, APIn this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In some sense, it is ironic that on the day it was learned that an unsung hero of the civil rights movement died, the president of the United States, the first African-American, advocated his support for same-sex marriage — the next battleground for equality.

As Robert Kennedy‘s deputy attorney general, it was Katzenbach whom the Kennedy administration relied on to craft legislation and quell crisis after crisis. Katzenbach was the ranking government official dispatched to represent the attorney general, and the president, when James Meredith enrolled at theUniversity of Mississippi.

The following year, it was Katzenbach who was sent to another college campus to enforce the integration of theUniversity of Alabama by two African-American students, James Hood and Vivian Malone (who would later become the sister-in-law of current Attorney General Eric Holder).

Reflections by Holder

The impressions that Katzenbach made on a 12-year-old Holder were everlasting. “When I became deputy in 1997, Nick Katzenbach was a person who by then, I never met, but whom I knew from history,” Holder told me during an interview last year. “One of the things I always do as I take these jobs is try to think about who my predecessors are and what they do well. … As I thought about what I wanted to do as deputy, I wanted to be a force beyond simply making sure that the ship was running on time, and I took that from the experience of having seen (Katzenbach) playing such a pivotal role in a historical event.”

The photo of that historic confrontation — between a short and stocky segregationist governor, George Wallace, and a tall balding government official, Katzenbach, has become an iconic image of the struggle for civil rights. On that hot June day in 1963, Wallace planned to seize the opportunity to highlight himself and his cause. But what he didn’t expect was to be upstaged by a 6’2 man who called it like he saw it — “a show.”

Katzenbach always called it like he saw it. He didn’t mince words; he was a straight shooter, and he accomplished something few others can say. He was the rare individual who was trusted by rivals Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He was part of Bobby Kennedy‘s inner circle, and later succeeded Kennedy as LBJ’s attorney general. For Johnson to appoint a Kennedy man in the position spoke volumes about Katzenbach. Katzenbach was his own man, guided by the principles of the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, he was beside himself over the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even in his later years, he never lost his love of the law.

His father’s footsteps

In pursuing the law he emulated his father, who was the state attorney general of New Jersey and died when Katzenbach was just 12 years old.

Katzenbach endured his own struggle for freedom when he was shot down in a B-25 over the Mediterranean and spent 27 months as a POW during World War II. While he was stymied by the confines of prison, he maximized his time by reading hundreds of books, including legal tomes, so he could return to the U.S. and earn his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He accomplished both.

When Katzenbach wanted to work for the Kennedy administration, he turned to Yale Law School classmate Byron White. Katzenbach’s eyes were set not on the Department of Justice, but rather the State Department. Ironically, that is where Katzenbach ended his government career. In what was considered a surprise move by President Johnson, Katzenbach went from being attorney general to under secretary of State under Dean Rusk. With the passage of the civil rights legislation, Katzenbach was ready to take on a new challenge, the Vietnam War. He was a dove among hawks and groomed many future statesmen such as Richard HolbrookeAnthony Lake and Lawrence Eagleburger, who all worked for him.

I recently asked Katzenbach about the stalemate in Congress due to unwillingness to compromise. He replied, “Compromise assumes, I think, a certain rationality and a willingness to postpone, not necessarily give up. I never tried to convince the Southerners to stop discriminating and vote for civil rights. But with everyone, I was willing to explain why we wanted a provision and what we thought it would accomplish.”

He did the same when a proposal or amendment wasn’t favored. As he said, “These discussions often exposed a misunderstanding that could be cured. Our language could be interpreted in ways we did not intend.”

This nation will certainly miss public servants like Katzenbach who valued the art of understanding and compromise.

Amy Schapiro is author of the forthcoming biography Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, which will be published next year.

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Women’s Education, Women’s Empowerment

This year I kicked off Women’s History Month as the luncheon speaker at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (more about that later) in Washington, DC. The Board’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, headed by Sheila Clark, decided to celebrate Women’s History Month by hosting a high noon tea.  This year’s theme was “Women’s Education, Women’s Empowerment,” and it was the perfect topic to discuss the life of Millicent Fenwick.

Born in 1910, Millicent Fenwick’s life embodied the times. When her father was appointed the U.S. Ambassador to Spain in 1925 her brother and stepbrother were allowed to stay in the United States to continue their education at St. Paul’s boarding school, but Millicent and her sister, Mary, were not afforded the same opportunity. The sisters were pulled out of Foxcroft Boarding School to accompany their father to Spain. Since Mary was a senior she was granted her high school diploma, but not Millicent. She was 15-years-old when her formal education ended. Despite her quest for knowledge, Millicent Hammond Fenwick never graduated from high school.

In 1938, in the wake of divorce, Fenwick sought employment. She applied for a job at an upscale New York department store. The interview went well until she was asked what college she went to. When she said she didn’t go to college, she was asked what high school she graduated from? She told them she attended high school for two years, but never graduated. That information promptly ended the interview. They wouldn’t hire anyone without a high school diploma.

Fenwick didn’t let her lack of a formal education hinder her path forward, but it took her longer to empower herself. At the age of 59, she was tired of following the “typical female pattern … I finally learned that when a man wants more he says, ‘Listen George, I want a bit of the action.’ Well, we’ve been taught, ‘You have to wait to be invited to the dance.’” Fenwick was tired of waiting. In 1967, she was hoping party leaders would select her to run for a state seat. They didn’t. Two years later, she didn’t make the same mistake. She spoke up and was named the Republican candidate for the Eight District Assembly seat. She won, launching her political career and, in essence, marking the beginning of her journey towards the nation’s Capitol.

Fenwick was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974. She was 1 of 18 women in Congress. All were in the House, none were in the Senate. Today there are 90 women serving in Congress, 17 of whom are in the Senate.

Since I was speaking at the Federal Reserve, I shared a story about Fenwick being on the “Banking, Currency, and Housing Committee,” a freshman assignment she detested and referred to as Beirut. Maybe if she visited the Federal Reserve she would have a different opinion.

I’ve lived in Washington for years, but the Federal Reserve was one building I’d never been inside. DeAnna Neill, the event coordinator, gave me a private tour of the building after the luncheon. Not only did I get to see the grand staircase, but also where Chairman Bernanke’s office and conference room were tucked away. The ornate conference room was in use, but the adjacent conference room was just as stunning. Most surprising, was the art. The Federal Reserve has its own art collection donning the walls. Who knew?