Posts Tagged ‘Nigel Hamilton’

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 


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?


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.



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.

Biographers Unite

A decade ago when I was writing “Millicent Fenwick: Her Way” I was doing so in relative isolation from other writers, simply because I knew none. My only connection to the non-fiction world was through C-Span’s Booknotes and BookTV.  The authors that appeared in my living room courtesy of C-Span were my virtual mentors.

Today I’m writing among a community of biographers. That was evident last weekend when the Biographers International Organization (BIO) hosted its second annual conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and 250 biographers showed up in full force. Pre-conference activities were held at the Library of Congress, National Archives, and a reception at Kitty Kelley’s lovely Georgetown home. Among the highlights was her bathroom. Word quickly spread through the crowd that you couldn’t leave the party without seeing it. And, what a sight it is. The red walls are plastered with framed comical gems depicting Kitty, her books, and the controversies they unleashed from Frank Sinatra to the Royals.

Kelley was among the many biographers who attended the BIO conference last Saturday, May 21. Others included award winning author and BIO President, Nigel Hamilton, Pulitzer-Prize Winner Debby Applegate, BIO Executive Director James McGrath Morris, BIO Vice-President Charles Shields, Ken Ackerman, David Stewart, Barbara Burkhardt, Kristie Miller, Stephen Grant, Jonathan Eig and more. Authors Jane Leavy, Jack Farrell, Will Haygood, Anne Heller, Ray Boomhower, and Greg Daugherty all made my job as a moderator easy and relished the audience with insight about writing and their subjects, ranging from Mickey Mantle and Sugar Ray Robinson to Ayn Rand and Clarence Darrow. Wil Haygood shared how he settled on his first subject, “It was about who I wanted to come home and sit on the couch with – Sammy Davis, Jr. or Nelson Rockefeller.” Sammy won.

Speaking of winning, Robert Caro was the recipient of the 2011 BIO Award for his contribution to the art and craft of biography.  In his keynote address he emphasized the importance of creating a sense of place. For him, that meant moving to the Texas Hill Country to get a better understanding of the place LBJ called home. And later, to get a better understanding of LBJ’s place of work, Caro discovered the Capitol building at sunrise as Johnson did, with the early morning sun reflecting off the marble.

Stacy Schiff, the closing speaker, surprised the audience by sharing her introverted nature, which was not at all apparent as she was interviewed by Jamie Morris. Some say writing attracts introverts, but as Schiff and Caro demonstrated the art of biography attracts both introverts and extraverts. I’m somewhere in between.

Now that the conference is over, I am reenergized and going to put my extraverted self on the shelf in favor of putting pen to paper.