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  1. Welcome to Biography! 1 item
    1. This module is designed to introduce you to the widest possible range of contemporary practice in biography. What follows is a selection of interesting or notable texts. I will refer to some of these in class and will post key excerpts on Blackboard. Your job is to explore! Read as widely as possible, follow your own interests, and use this list as your starting point. If you are unsure what to read, please contact Ursula for advice.

  2. Core Texts 19 items
    The following texts are important because they set out the concepts with which we will be working in terms of the postmodern context, and offer critical work on what we mean by 'biography': what is it? What happens when we write it?
    1. 'Biography Today' - Nigel Hamilton

      Chapter  A helpful introduction to the development of biography as a historical form, plus a brief overview of its current state. This is a good place to begin! This is a digitized item which can be accessed directly via this module on Blackboard

    2. The Proper Study? - Richard Holmes

      Chapter  In this chapter, Richard Holmes asks a rather provocative question: is biography a proper subject for an academic course? I think we're all interested in the answer!

    3. Theoretical Discussions of Biography: Approaches from History, Microhistory, and Life Writing - Hans Renders, Binne De Haan 2012 (electronic resource)

      Book  Some of the latest theoretical debate about what it means to write biography.

    4. Introduction: The Seductions of Biography - McFeely, W.S.

      Chapter  A key text for this module - one of the few attempts to theorise biography as a genre and as a process in the postmodern context.

    5. Biography: fiction, fact and form - Ira Bruce Nadel 1986

      Book 

    6. The Troubled face of biography - Eric Homberger, John Charmley 1988

      Book 

    7. Biography: an annotated bibliography - Carl E. Rollyson c2007

      Book 

    8. Preface - Foley, Barbara

      Chapter  A critical work, exploring the borders between fiction and 'fact'. Currently not in stock as title is out of print.

    9. Biography and Research Method - Erben, Michael

      Chapter  While the educational potential of biography is an interesting subject in its own right, this first chapter is very useful for anyone considering how research methods apply to the practice of biography.

    10. Interpretive biography - Norman K. Denzin c1989

      Book  One of the few texts to look not at defining what biography is, but what it does. Clear and helpful discussion of all the main considerations when working in this form.

    11. Literary biography: an introduction - Michael Benton, Wiley InterScience (Online service) 2009

      Book 

    12. Reality hunger: a manifesto - David Shields 2011

      Book  A fascinating critical/creative collage text, in which Shields collects quotations from other authors to show how contemporary culture seems to be obsessed with 'reality'.

    13. A poetics of postmodernism: history, theory, fiction - Linda Hutcheon 1988

      Book  While not focused on biography, Hutcheon's text is so good at bringing to light the postmodern context in which all writers are now working.

    14. Writing lives: literary biography - Midge Gillies 2009

      Book 

    15. History meets fiction - Beverley C. Southgate 2009

      Book  Shows where fiction can illuminate 'the dark areas of history' to arrive at a 'greater truth'.

    16. The Distinction of Fiction - Dorrit Cohn 2000

      Book  A critical discussion of the borderlines between history and fiction, and how readers decide what it is that they are reading.

    17. Writing creative non-fiction: determining the form 2015

      Book  See particularly the chapter by Rodge Glass - 'More Lies Please: Biography and the Duty to Abandon Truth'.

    18. History and fiction: writers, their research, worlds and stories - Gillian Polack 2016

      Book Core Recommended for anyone working with historical narratives.

  3. Further Reading 64 items
    Creative texts - varying examples of contemporary biographical practice
    1. Custom-Breaker: Writing the Life of Elizabeth Cary

      Chapter  Here is Ursula's recently published reflection on how innovative and experimental techniques can help to address the difficulties of writing biographically.

    2. Circles around the sun: in search of a lost brother - Molly McCloskey 2012

      Book  This text illustrates the autobiographical stake in any work of biography. Here it is highlighted as the author undertakes the emotionally challenging task of understanding her brother's life and illness, its effect on her family, and most importantly, its effect on her own life.

    3. Flush - Virginia Woolf, Kate Flint 2009

      Book  We look at this book in class - a great model for alternative perspectives and for writing with the senses.

    4. Maus: a survivor's tale - Art Spiegelman, Art Spiegelman, Art Spiegelman 2003

      Book  Not only interesting for its graphic novel format, but also a really useful model for balancing the autobiographical stake with the life of another.

    5. Dotter of her father's eyes - Mary M. Talbot, Bryan Talbot 2012

      Book  Part personal history, part biography, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes contrasts two coming-of-age narratives: that of Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce, and that of author Mary Talbot, daughter of the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton. Social expectations and gender politics, thwarted ambitions and personal tragedy are played out against two contrasting historical backgrounds, poignantly evoked by the atmospheric visual storytelling of award winning comic artist and graphic novel pioneer Bryan Talbot. Produced through an intense collaboration seldom seen between writers and artists, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes is intelligent, funny and sad - a fine addition to the evolving genre of graphic memoir.

    6. Rory & Ita - Roddy Doyle 2003

      Book  We look at this book in class - both for its use of detail, and for the way in which the author works with the voice of his subjects.

    7. The tragedy of Mariam: the fair queen of Jewry - Elizabeth Cary, Margaret W. Ferguson, Barry Weller c1994

      Book  This play is by Elizabeth Cary, the subject of my own biography-in-progress. Also included in this edition is a biography of Cary by one of her daughters. So not only was Cary the first woman in England to publish a play in her own name, but she was also the first subject of a literary biography!

    8. Wedlock: how Georgian Britain's worst husband met his match - Wendy Moore 2010

      Book  An example of 'book club' biography - written with the narrative drive and accessibility of a novel, reaching a popular audience in a way that traditional biographies often do not.

    9. The biographer's tale - A. S. Byatt 2000

      Book  Described by the publisher as a novel, this text is in my opinion a very interesting piece of "metabiographical" criticism.

    10. All the beloved ghosts - Alison MacLeod 2017

      Book  We will explore this text when we look at the boundaries between biography and fiction. In particular we will look at the first story, 'The Thaw' (personal history written as fiction) and 'Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld' (an interesting variation on biographies of Sylvia Plath). This collection of short stories is also very interesting in terms of form - it shows how short fiction can do powerful biographical work.

    11. London: the biography - Peter Ackroyd 2003

      Book  An example of two things: a biography about a thing, rather than a person; and a biography that is organised thematically rather than chronologically.

    12. Discovering Dorothea: the life of the pioneering fossil-hunter Dorothea Bate - Karolyn Shindler 2005

      Book  A good example of a biography that brings a specialist interest to popular attention. Also a biography which chooses a 'pioneer' as its subject. This is a digitized item which can be accessed directly via this module on Blackboard

    13. Mad girl's love song: Sylvia Plath and life before Ted - Andrew Wilson 2013

      Book  A literary biography. Interesting for the way in which it plays upon the reputation of another writer (and we can discuss the gender politics of that) but note how the text focuses on one period of the subject's life.

    14. The hours - David Hare, Michael Cunningham 2003

      Book  Not strictly a biography, but a fascinating example of where biography can lead. Here, the author takes a 'real' person (Virginia Woolf) and imagines the influence her writing might have on two fictional characters living in different historical eras. The Hours is both a homage to Virginia Woolf and very much its own creature. Even as Michael Cunningham brings his literary idol back to life, he intertwines her story with those of two more contemporary women. One grey suburban London morning in 1923, Woolf awakens from a dream that will soon lead to Mrs.Dalloway. In the present, on a beautiful June day in Greenwich Village, 52-year-old Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her oldest love, a poet dying of an AIDS-related illness. And in Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown, pregnant and unsettled, does her best to prepare for her husband's birthday, but can't seem to stop reading Woolf. These women's lives are linked both by the 1925 novel and by the few precious moments of possibility each keeps returning to.

    15. Summertime: fiction - J. M. Coetzee 2010

      Book  This is an interesting example of an author putting himself into his work, staging autobiography as a biography which we understand to be at least partly fictionalised. In the text, we gather that J.M. Coetzee has died. The narrative follows the efforts of his biographer as he tries to discover more about his subject.

    16. Darwin: a life in poems - Ruth Padel 2010

      Book  A biography composed entirely of poems.

    17. And when did you last see your father? - Blake Morrison 2007

      Book  Another example of a biography which is simultaneously an autobiography as Blake Morrison attempts to understand his father's life.

    18. The orchid thief - Susan Orlean 2000

      Book  A good example of a hybrid text, which is at once an account of scientific discovery, a biography of 'the orchid thief' and a memoir of the author's own involvement with the subject.

    19. Cod: a biography of the fish that changed the world - Mark Kurlansky 1999

      Book  A great example of a biography about a thing rather than a person. Brings the most unpromising subject matter to vivid life.

    20. Black Swan Lake: Life of a Wetland - Rod Giblett 2013

      Book  The biography of a wetland. Drawing on the long tradition of nature writing, this is one of the most contemporary manifestations of it.

    21. But beautiful: a book about jazz - Geoff Dyer 2012

      Book  Dyer's account of jazz emulates the form about which he writes by inventing 'free form' vignettes in which his subjects are brought to life via fictional scenes.

    22. The hare with amber eyes: a hidden inheritance - Edmund De Waal 2011

      Book  An extraordinary text in which memoir, biography and historical, cultural and artistic histories are woven together.

    23. Someone called Derrida: an Oxford mystery - John Schad 2007

      Book  A highly experimental text, which is part detective quest, part biography of the author's biological father, but also his intellectual father (Derrida) and a memoir in response to his father's dementia.

    24. Nine lives of William Shakespeare - Laurence Wright 07/2014

      Article  Acknowledging that a biography can never recreate the definitive version of someone's life, this text offers 9 different 'lives' of Shakespeare, interpreting the facts in different ways.

    25. The suspicions of Mr Whicher, or, The murder at Road Hill House - Kate Summerscale 2011

      Book  A reconstruction of a Victorian crime that has never been solved, this text presents its narrative like a detective novel, although it is all based upon scrupulous research. See also the recent TV adaptations.

    26. Craft: the following texts contain lots of advice on the craft of creative non-fiction; how to turn your research into gripping, accessible reading.

    27. The fourth genre: contemporary writers of/on creative nonfiction - Robert L. Root, Michael Steinberg 2006

      Book 

    28. The situation and the story: the art of personal narrative - Vivian Gornick 2002

      Book 

    29. Telling true stories: a nonfiction writers' guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University - Mark Kramer, Wendy Call, Harvard University. Nieman Foundation for Journalism c2007

      Book 

    30. The Arvon book of literary non-fiction writing - Sally Cline 2012

      Book 

    31. The art of fact: contemporary artists of nonfiction - Barbara Lounsberry 1990

      Book 

    32. Touchstone anthology of contemporary creative nonfiction: work from 1970 to the present - Lex Williford, Michael Martone 2007

      Book 

    33. Writing biography & autobiography - Brian D. Osborne 2004

      Book 

    34. Melville biography: an inside narrative - Hershel Parker c2012

      Book 

    35. Chapter 3: 'Lives as Narratives' - Susan Tridgell

      Chapter  An excellent book as a whole, chapter 3 is particularly pertinent to our thinking in week 4, where we grapple with the narrative shaping of people's lives.

    36. Preface - Pagan, Nicholas

      Document 

    37. The Voice of the Biographer - Backscheider, Paula R

      Chapter 

    38. 'About A Life: Writing From the Self' - Green, George

      Chapter 

    39. Journal of historical biography - University College of the Fraser Valley, University College of the Fraser Valley. History Department (electronic resource)

      Journal  Check this journal for open access articles on various aspects of biography.

    40. Biography Journal

      Journal  Free access to this edition of a leading academic journal on the practice of biography

    41. The research interview - Bill Gillham c2000

      Book  Being able to conduct effective interviews is a key professional skill, and also transfers to a wide range of careers.