QU: Biographies of Living Subjects

Amy Kesselman's picture

A colleague of mine is encountering the minefield involved in writing a biography of a living woman. Reflections on navigating this process and/or examples of biographies of living subjects would be appreciated.

I don't know that the pitfalls of writing about a living woman are much different than writing about a living subject who is a man, but I can think of two trade biographies of living women: Sydney Stern's biography of Gloria Steinem (1997) and Deirdre Bair's biography of Simone de Beauvoir (1990), which she began when Beauvoir was still alive. Both authors are members of the Women Writing Women's Lives Seminar, .

This isn't a direct solution, but for anyone looking for help with writing a serious biography, whether academic or trade, I would suggest looking into Biographers International, , a mostly-online organization dedicated to helping biographers with craft and community. Membership is not expensive, and posting questions on BIO's Facebook page often provides one with good advice from experienced biographers who are happy to give it.

I worked on a cultural history that had a strongly biographical bent -- and the woman I worked with died before it was published. However, her family is still living.

My book is: Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement: Emily Taylor's Activism

I would be glad to correspond with your colleague if it would be of service.

Kelly Sartorius, Ph.D.

I highly recommend that she join BIO - Biographers International Organization http://biographersinternational.org/.
They have a monthly newsletter with all kinds of professional tips, and have directly addressed this prickly issue of writing about living subjects more than once. A recent issue included an interview with Kitty Kelley about writing about famous living subjects. They hold an annual conference that includes many panels on methodology. And they have a fee-based mentoring program, which includes this topic among those available: "dealing with subjects’ families and associates."
You have to be a member to access the various offerings, but the dues are based on income and (I think) quite reasonable.