I’m back from the 2016 BIO Conference in Richmond — and what a terrific three days it was. As promised, I tried to take as many pictures as I could, blasting away with my iPhone, sometimes from the back of the room. We’ll have video of some of this weekend’s extraordinary moments here sometime soon — but meanwhile, here are a few highlights, taken at the panels I attended (and there were LOTS more, trust me!):
The opening plenary session featured two master biographers discussing the craft, mulling over everything from whether you need to like your particular subject as a person (answer: no) to whether a biography can be truly definitive (answer: probably not). Oh, and did I tell you who the two biographers were? A pair of aces, with a list of awards as long as your arm: Annette Gordon-Reed, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, and T.J. Stiles, whose Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America won this year’s Pulitzer for History. And as I think the photos below convey, what a lively, wonderful, invigorating session it was.
Next, I attended a panel moderated by my pal and colleague Marc Leepson on the Future of Research. Are you one of those researchers who wants everything in a library available digitally and on-line right now? Librarians and archivists want that, too — but stress that it’s not likely to happen as quickly as they’d like, either.
Then it was over to one of the most lively and entertaining panel discussions of the day, as James Atlas, Blake Bailey, Stacy Schiff, and D.T. Max reflected on how they chose their subjects. And laughed . . and laughed . . . and laughed. Wonderful.
The lunch session featured a show-stopper of a speech by the winner of the 2016 BIO Award: Claire Tomalin, biographer of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and so many more. At 82, she’s as spry as ever. Take a look:
After lunch, I was off to another spectacularly good panel discussion (moderated with aplomb by Dean King) on Writing Family Biographies — in this case presidential or royal families — featuring Nigel Hamilton, Kitty Kelley, and Andrew Lownie. The conversation quickly evolved to authorized vs. unauthorized biography, and then to the legal nuances needed to ensure you protect yourself from legal challenges (hint: take pictures and write personal letters). As you can see from the photos below, this was another panel that knew how to have a good time:
Finally, at Saturday’s closing reception, we announced the winner of the 2016 Plutarch Award, the only international literary award presented by biographers for biography. It went to Rosemary Sullivan for Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva. After learning only a few weeks back that she was the winner of the award — even we didn’t know who the winner would be until the ballot was closed in May — Rosemary went out of her way to come in all the way from Chile to attend the conference and make a lovely acceptance speech. Well done.
As the outgoing president (and congratulations to Will Swift for presiding over this year’s conference so spectacularly), it was really nice to attend the conference from in front of the curtain, rather than keeping tabs on the goings-and-comings that go on behind the curtain. My thanks to the hardworking bunch at BIO who made the conference so special, and so wonderful. And thanks, Richmond, for having us.