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Members' News

Rolling news and notices from the club and its members, as well as items of interest from the world of biography.

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The Biographers’ Club has received the following CALL FOR PAPERS:

Transnational Perspectives on the Writing of Artists’ Lives, 19th -21st centuries.
An Interdisciplinary Workshop
25-26 January 2018, University of Amsterdam

Some writers are so fascinated by other artists that they study their biographies and tell their life stories, in fictional or non-fictional form. Whereas artist’s lives have been written throughout the ages, they have become increasingly popular since the romantic period, with the rise of the artist-hero in the Künstlerroman. Many romantic and post-romantic writers portrayed an artist from their home country as iconic of the nation, thus establishing or consolidating a national cultural tradition.

However, there are numerous examples of authors who wrote the life stories of writers, painters or musicians from countries other than their own: Alexander Pushkin tells about the rivalry between two famous composers in his theatre play Mozart and Salieri (1830) ; André Maurois narrates the life story of Shelley in Ariel ou la vie de Shelley (1923); The Moon and Sixpence (1919) is a fictional biography of Paul Gauguin written by Somerset Maugham and Symphonie Pathétique (1935) is Klaus Mann’s biographical novel of Tchaikovsky. More recent examples are the literary biography of Jane Austen written by the Canadian novelist Carol Shields in 2001; Caryl Phillips’ Radio Play A Kind of Home: James Baldwin in Paris (2004) and Julian Barnes’s novel The Noise of Time (2016) in which he examines the biography of Shostakovich.

All these examples show literary writers who, in many different ways, construct their subject’s life stories in order to reflect on life and art and to define their own aesthetic position. Whether they criticize their ‘hero’ or identify with him/her as a formative model and make it their own, they establish a trans-national relation with this particular artist.

We will further investigate the dynamics of such transnational relations and appropriations in a two-day international workshop on artists’ biographies in the 19 th -21 st centuries. We will focus on the lives of artists, written by artists, such as literary biographies, biographical novels and operas or theatre plays that clearly rely on biographical elements.

We aim to examine four central issues:

1. the various forms and usages of artist’s biographies. How and why do writers engage with the lives of other artists? Which elements are foregrounded and which elements are ignored in the life narrative they construct?

2. the truth and fiction about an artists’ life. To what effect do writers fictionalize certain biographical elements? What kind of ‘truth’ do they convey through literary writing?

3. the historical development of the artist-hero in modern literature, literary biography and portraiture. Should we consider the romantic period as ‘tipping point’; a period in which artists begin to write about artists? Are there similar tipping or turning points in the twentieth century in the writing of artists’ lives?

4. the transnational dynamics of identity formation. What is the importance of studying ‘foreign’ artist’s lives in the formation of artistic identities? To what extent does this contribute to the sense of belonging to a (trans)national, European or cosmopolitan artistic community? How do politics come into play here?

Proposals, no longer than 200 words, should be sent before 1 June 2017 to Kasper van Kooten ( and Marleen Rensen (

Jeremy Lewis – author, former publisher, and noted supporter of the Biographers’ Club – has died. He had been suffering from cancer.

After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin in 1965, Lewis worked for publishers including OUP, Collins (as it was then), and Chatto. He was deputy editor of the London Magazine, and more recently deputy editor of the Oldie and editor-at-large of the Literary Review.

A genial figure likened by Anthony Powell to a “floppy Labrador”, Lewis was an astute and witty writer who had the gift, particularly apparent in his publishing memoirs such as Grub Street Irregular, of portraying characters candidly but without unkindness. He appeared to be too amused by people to dislike them, and he brought this sensibility to weightier works including biographies of Cyril Connolly, Allen Lane, the Greene family, and the Astors.

Lewis was a judge of the 2015 Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Prize.

watling_sarahBea Hemming at Cape has bought Noble Savages by Sarah Watling, the proposal for which won the Biographers’ Club’s 2016 Tony Lothian prize for an uncommissioned, debut biography. Cape won a six-way auction to sign UK and Commonwealth rights from Tracy Bohan at the Wylie Agency – where Watling works. Publication will be in spring 2019.

Noble Savages follows the story of the four Olivier sisters, whose lives span the 20th century. Brought up in the Fabian milieu, the sisters were determined and emancipated in an era when society still punished women for being so. Watling draws on recently available documents and on interviews with the sisters’ descendants to offer “a vivid portrait of sisterhood in all its complexities”.

She said: “I’m a huge admirer of the Cape list and I look forward to working with everyone there very much. It’s a privilege to be part of the new list Bea is building.”

Hemming added: “We were all captivated by Sarah’s proposal, with its rare mixture of sensitivity, imagination and intelligence, backed up by such extraordinary research. I feel certain that this book launches a major new talent in biography writing, and I’m thrilled to be publishing Noble Savages at Cape.”

Watling holds a degree in history from the University of Cambridge, and a master’s in historical research from the University of London.

vl_prCentreHouse Press is publishing The Vagabond Lover by long-standing club member Garry O’Conner. 

What happens to the Vagabond Lover, the legendary broadcasting and Variety star Cavan O’Connor, is a central theme and issue of Garry O’Connor’s autobiographical account of his father and himself up till his father’s death in 1997.

O’Connor has worked as daily theatre critic for the Financial Times, and as a director for the RSC, before he became a fulltime writer. As well as his novels and plays, O’Conner has published many books on actors, literary figures, religious and political leaders, including Pope John Paul II and the Blairs. He has had plays performed at Edinburgh, Oxford, Ipswich, London and on Radio 4, and contributed dramatised documentaries to Radio 3, scripts and interviews for BBC 1, as well as having his work adapted for a three-part mini-series.

the-man-who-designed-the-future-grey-jpg-232x300Former Tony Lothian Prize runner-up B. Alexandra Szerlip is to publish a new book, The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America, with Melville House in the US.

Decades before Philippe Starck (or Steve Jobs) there was Norman Bel Geddes, the original enfant terrible designer, the man who made ‘streamlining’ a household word. In the course of his astonishing career, Bel Geddes crossed paths with everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright and Amelia Earhart to Chaplin, Balanchine and Gershwin. He put his hands to everything from oceanliners and 20-engine aircraft to ‘skyscraper’ cocktail shakers, from typewriters and sports stadiums to some 200 Broadway shows, from  “underwater” restaurants to Futurama at the 1939 N.Y. World’s Fair. His life offers a fascinating window into his era — from the early days of cinema to the early days of television, from pre-WWI aesthetics to post-WWII economics.

Szerlip’s book is out on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, with a launch at 7pm at the City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco. This will be followed by talks and book signings on Sunday, April 23 2017, 2-4pm at Queens Museum, Flushing Meadows, NY, and on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 7pm, Cooper Union (Rose Auditorium), NYC.

Szerlip has been a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellow, a Yaddo fellow, and runner-up for the Tony Lothian Prize for a first biography in progress. She has contributed to The Paris Review Daily and The Believer, among other publications, and has worked in professional theatre, as a book editor, sculptor and graphic designer. Raised on the East Coast, she lives in San Francisco.

The Club has been contacted by Caroline Church, who is seeking a biographer to help write the recent history of her husband’s 130 year old family business. Her husband has travelled widely and has many amusing and some chilling stories to tell.

The “book” would be aimed at family, friends and those who know him and the company. It will therefore be a paid job, rather than speculative venture.

For more information, please contact:

The funeral for Club member Tatiana Roshupkina will take place at Honor Oak Crematorium, Brockley Way, London SE23 3RD at 9.30am on Thursday 16th March. Members of The Biographers’ Club have been invited to attend if they wish.

The service will be taken by High Church Of England Vicar Mother Anna Macham. Tatiana converted to the church around 2011 and was baptised by Mother Anna.

The undertakers making the arrangements are: F A Albin & Sons Funeral Directors, Arthur Stanley House, 52 Culling Road, London SE16 2TN.


Londonr Magazine are running an event entitled “Writing History: How to be a biographer”

“In a discussion detailing their own journey of discovery, Lord Watson and Helena Kelly will describe their working methods, the difficulty of identifying a new perspective on an already well-known figure, the process of separating fact from rumour, and most importantly; reveal how to truly enter into the mindset and understand someone you’ve never met!”

Thursday 16th March 2017
Waterstones Tottenham Court Road

For more information, or to book tickets, click here.


IABA Conference 2017       
Wednesday 7 – Friday 9 June
King’s College, London
Life Writing, Europe and New Media

The Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London and the European Research Council-funded ‘Ego-Media’ project are calling for papers for the IABA Europe conference, which they will be hosting in London:

“This year’s IABA conference, hosted by King’s College London, will highlight digital and new media.

Changes in technologies of information and communication affect our everyday lives, research and teaching: key questions for the conference will be how new media have transformed both lives and life writing.

We hope scholars working on other topics and earlier times will find it interesting to explore the transformations the digital is effecting in their fields. We also welcome contributions where the emphasis falls on other concerns of particular urgency for the IABA community – for example conflict, displacement, migration and refugees; women’s lives; LGBT+ lives; issues of national and European identities.

We welcome proposals, including participation by creative practitioners, workshops, panels, and alternative formats. If you would be interested in participating in something like a ‘lightning round’ let us know what topic(s) you would most like to speak about. Send paper abstracts to by 31 March 2017.”

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Laurie McNeill, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
  • John Zuern, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
  • Sidonie Smith, Mary Fair Croushore Professor of the Humanities and Director, Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan
  • Julia Watson, Professor, Dept. of Comparative Studies, Emerita, The Ohio State University

For more information, click here.

The organisers of the international “Convention and revolution life writing by women in the 1800s and 1900s: archives, critiques and methods” conference have invited participation from researchers of life writing, herstory, and (oral) history.

The conference will be held in Warsaw on 29 November– 1 December 2017, organised by the team behind the Women’s Archive, a division of the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The conference will focus on discussing the latest methods of working with women’s personal documents and biographies written on their basis. We are interested in strategies developed in contemporary historiography and literature studies, in particular interdisciplinary women’s, gender and queer studies. As for historical periods, we are interested mainly in the 1800s and the 1900s up to World War II.

To apply or for more information, contact Ewa Serafin-Prusator at:

The application deadline is 30 April 2017.