$49 – $99

2021 BIO Conference

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$49 – $99

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Biographers International Organization (BIO) and the Leon Levy Center for Biography Present the 2021 Biography Conference - Online

About this Event

Biographers International Organization (BIO) and the Leon Levy Center for Biography bring together some of the finest practitioners of the craft of biography during this 3-day conference to help guide, mentor, encourage, and advise attendees on a wide variety of topics relating to the writing, researching, and selling of biography.

All sessions will be online, with live panel discussions recorded for viewing afterward. During the conference, video links will be accessible only on Eventbrite, on your ticket receipt page. Additional information about the full program is on the BIO website.

All times listed are New York (Eastern Daylight) time. Panels and Roundtables are live and take place in real time. Other events are prerecorded and may be watched at your convenience, as indicated. The panels will also be recorded and available to conference participants a week or two after the conference itself.

Friday, May 14, 2021

(All Friday events are prerecorded and available after noon.)

12:00-12:30 Welcome and Opening Remarks

Linda Leavell (President of BIO) and Kai Bird (Executive Director, Leon Levy Center for Biography)

12:30-1:30 Award Presentations

Presentation of the Ray A. Shepard Service Award, the Biblio Award, the Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship, the Frances “Frank” Rollin Fellowship, and the Hazel Rowley Prize

1:45-2:30 Readings from New Books by BIO Members

BIO members with biographies published between June 1, 2020 and May 31, 2021 read from their books for three minutes each. Limited to the first fifteen who sign up. To sign up, please email the title of your book, the publisher, and the month of publication to Linda Leavell: president@biographersinternational.org.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

10:00 – 11:00 James Atlas Plenary: Restoring Overlooked Lives

David W. Blight (Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom) and Annette Gordon-Reed (The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family) in conversation (prerecorded, available after 10 AM).


11:30 – 12:30 Reflections in a Funhouse Mirror: Lives Told Kaleidoscopically

Amanda Vaill (Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War), moderator; Craig Brown (150 Glimpses of the Beatles); Ash Carter (co-author, Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols, as remembered by 150 of his closest friends); Gillian Gill (Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World); Sam Kashner (co-author, Life Isn’t Everything).

11:30 – 12:30 One Subject, Three Ways: Agatha Christie

Laurie Gwen Shapiro (The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica), moderator; Laura Thompson, author (Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life); Matt Cottingham, documentary filmmaker (Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie); graphic biographer Anne Martinetti (Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie).


1:00 – 2:00 BIO Award Presentation and Keynote Address

Presentation of BIO Award by Linda Leavell, Introduction by Pamela Newkirk, Keynote Address by David Levering Lewis (prerecorded, available after 1:00)


3:00 – 4:00 The Art and Technology of Interviewing

James McGrath Morris (Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press), moderator; John Brady (The Craft of Interviewing); Claudia Dreifus (Interviews on Science From The New York Times); Brian Jay Jones (Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination).

3:00 – 4:00 Researching Under-Documented Lives

Kavita Das (Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar), moderator; Gaiutra Bahadur (Coolie Woman); Channing Gerard Joseph (House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens – and Changed the World); Pamela Newkirk (Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga).

4:30 – 5:30 How to Pay for It, or Funding Your Biography

Heath Hardage Lee (The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home), moderator; Steve Hindle (Huntington Library); Carla Kaplan (Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance); Mark Silver (National Endowment for the Humanities).

4:30 – 5:30 Writing the First Biography of Your Subject

Debby Applegate (Madam: The Life and Times of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age), moderator; Justin Gifford (Revolution or Death: The Life of Eldridge Cleaver); Abigail Santamaria (Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis); Carol Sklenicka (Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer).

Sunday, May 16, 2021


11:00 – 12:00 Swipe Right for Your Subject: How Do You Know It’s the Right One?

Gayle Feldman (Bennett Cerf), moderator; Mary V. Dearborn (Ernest Hemingway: A Life); Gerald Howard (Malcolm Cowley); Eric K. Washington (Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal).

11:00 – 12:00 What Biographers Can Learn from Obituary Writers

Bruce Weber (E.L. Doctorow), moderator; Adam Bernstein (The Washington Post); Margalit Fox (The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History); William McDonald (The New York Times).

12:30 – 1:30 Roundtable Discussion Groups

Small groups with similar interests meet and converse informally. Topics for tables will include First-time Biographers, Women’s Biography, Popular Culture, African-American Biography, Short Forms of Biography, Group Biography, and others.


2:00 – 3:00 Do I Know Enough? Navigating the Relationship Between Research and Writing

Lindsay Whalen (Mary Oliver), moderator; Blake Bailey (Philip Roth: The Biography); Kai Bird (The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter).

2:00 – 3:00 Group Biography

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina (Black London: Life Before Emancipation), moderator; David Hajdu (Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña); Daisy Hay (Dinner With Joseph Johnson); Andrew Meier (Morgenthau family).

3:30 – 4:30 The Professors and the Journalists

Jonathan Alter (His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life); Leo Damrosch (The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age); Susan Glasser (The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III); Paul Hendrickson (Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright).

3:30 – 4:30 Writing About Writers

Karin Roffman (The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life), moderator; Heather Clark (Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath); Ruth Franklin (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life); D.T. Max (Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace).


4:45 – 5:30 Plutarch Award Announcement

Presentation of the Plutarch Award by Kate Buford, Chair of the Plutarch Committee; brief closing remarks by Linda Leavell, President of BIO (prerecorded, available after 4:45).

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