Posts Tagged ‘Robert Caro’

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.



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.