Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category
Thursday, May 13th, 2010
A thoughtful post from biographer Julija Šukys on her blog Writing. Life. Thanks to Andrew Westoll for the link.
“It’s easy to sneer at the glut of memoirs of the past decade, and to discredit the genre as somehow dishonest or narcissistic, but autobiographical texts and personal essays that really work are always about something bigger than the person writing them.
The best first-person texts flirt with navel-gazing, but are redeemed by insight, artistry, self-criticism, and honesty. By telling a story about their own singular lives, skilled autobiographers and personal essayists inspire revelations. In other words, these texts not only reveal something about the person writing them, but also about the one reading them.”
Wednesday, January 6th, 2010
Finalists for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction have been announced, and it’s an all-male and biography-heavy list. From the press release:
“The 2010 prize finalists are Ian Brown for his bookThe Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search For His Disabled Son, published by Random House Canada; John English for his book Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968 – 2000, published by Knopf Canada; Daniel Poliquin for his book René Lévesque, published by Penguin Canada; and Kenneth Whyte for his book The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst, published by Random House Canada.
The jury selected their four-book shortlist from 125 submissions, published between November 1, 2008 and October 31, 2009, and submitted by 34 publishers from across North America.”
WIthout wishing to dispute the quality of any of these books (none of which I’ve read in full, and two of which I haven’t even opened) I continue to feel uncomfortable about a list that suggests such a limited view of what literary nonfiction can do and be. I’d welcome others’ thoughts on this.
Having said that, the excerpts of Ian Brown’s book that I’ve read have been honest and moving. As someone who has also written about parenting in challenging circumstances, and who has faced some opposition to the very idea of doing so, I am glad to see a book on this subject receive recognition. And while I haven’t yet read Daniel Poliquin’s René Lévesque, I would like to read it, based on his highly intelligent and insightful conversation about the book during the Kingston WritersFest. Interesting, too, to see a “series” book nominated; that’s unusual.
Several of these titles have appeared on previous awards lists this this fall, but they failed to win the big prizes.
For more on this, see Steven Beattie’s “How to Make it as a Writer: Be a Man.” Like him, while I’d prefer to believe that the male-dominated nature of the big awards is mere coincidence, I smell a rat and its long tail is called sexism.
Friday, November 27th, 2009
Finalists are Ian Brown, Karen Connolly, Eric Siblin and Kenneth Whyte. Read the press release and jury comments here. And congratulations to all finalists and short-listed authors.
Monday, September 28th, 2009
Thanks to Merilyn Simonds, Jan Walter, and all the many volunteers at the Kingston WritersFest last weekend. The Festival was an overwhelming success, with huge, enthusiastic audiences for every event and happy writers. The venue is already booked for next year.
With Merilyn Simonds at the helm you can be sure that writers of creative nonfiction were well represented at the Festival. In particular, I enjoyed a panel moderated by Charlotte Gray on Penguin’s Extraordinary Canadians series. Mark Kingwell, Daniel Poliquin, and Jane Urquhart spoke brilliantly on their subjects (Glenn Gould, René Lévesque, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, respectively) but also on the art of biography itself.
The Extraordinary Canadians series, edited by John Raulston Saul, imposes strict length restrictions on its authors. All three at the WritersFest mentioned that early in the process, they began to think of what they were writing as extended essays, and that ultimately, this idea that they were writing essays liberated them from doomed attempts to encapsulate an entire life in forty to fifty thousand words. Instead, the form itself required – but also inspired – non-linear and highly personal interpretations. Structure arose organically from the themes that dominated their subjects’ lives, together with their need to cut through the many myths and presuppositions about these famous people. Each book in the series is therefore a dialogue of sorts between author and subject.
I liked this idea of essay-as-inspiration and look forward to reading the results.