Confessions of a Serial Biographer


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About the Book

Some critics rank biographers just above serial murderers. The author of this book, a self-described member of the Samuel Johnson school, doesn’t share this view. An account of a life, he believes, should adhere to the truth as the biographer sees it, not to the sentiments of others.
This memoir of a professional biographer’s life tells the inside story of how he became interested in his subjects and reveals the mechanics of the trade: how to assemble proposals for publishers, conduct interviews and archival research, and joust with editors, subjects and their literary estates. Other biographers have described their process but remained discrete, not wishing to offend their sources and supporters. This author has forgone such caution.

About the Author(s)

Carl Rollyson is a professor of journalism at Baruch College, City University of New York. He lives in Cape May Court House, New Jersey.

Bibliographic Details

Carl Rollyson
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 256
Bibliographic Info:
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6325-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2541-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1
Introduction: Resolutely Indiscreet 3
1: Richard Ellmann and the Advent of Ruthless Biography 7
2: Picking a Victim 12
3: Becoming a Biographer: Marilyn Monroe Made Me Do It 17
4: Hazarding Lillian Hellman: Discovering the Virtues of Fair Use 27
5: Martha and Me: The Promise and Peril of Unauthorized Biography 39
6: The Biographer Who Came In from the Cold: Becoming Rebecca West’s Authorized Biographer 77
7: Susan Sontag: The Making of a Biography 102
8: Becoming Jill Craigie’s Deauthorized Biographer and Michael Foot’s Boswell 137
9: Intermission: From Picking a Victim to Pontificating on Subjects 185
10: Another Sylvia Plath Biography? 196
11: Biography, My Father, Dana Andrews and Me 203
12: Amy Lowell, the Silent Woman and the Biographical Deficit 208
13: Missed Connections 214
14: Work in Progress: William Faulkner 227
Index 239

Book Reviews & Awards

“Rollyson’s breezy account of the art and craft of biography is rich in gossip, and readers will enjoy juicy details…this useful guide exemplifies how one biographer approaches his work…recommended”—Choice.