…And Then There Were Four.

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Over at BIO, we’ve narrowed our list of Plutarch Award nominees from ten (see the list just below) to a literary Final Four.  You can see ’em in the pic above. And a really interesting bunch they are.

Voting stays open until May 15, which means once I finish George Lucas (should happen by the end of the weekend), I can get to reading these terrific books.  I’m especially looking forward to reading Peter Guralnick’s Sam Phillips, mainly because his Elvis book Careless Love is one of my favorite books of all time. And I’m not even an Elvis fan, thangyewverrahmush.

And the Plutarch Award Nominees Are…

Over at Biographers International Organization — a group I’m proud to be the president of for another three months — we’ve announced the ten nominees for the Plutarch Award, presented to the year’s best biography. This is the world’s only literary biography prize given to biography, by biographers, which makes it a pretty neat deal.

BIO takes the Plutarch very seriously.  In fact, last year, with an eye on — among other issues — the hubbub surrounding the hijacking of the Hugo Award, we decided to better define and add a bit of rigor to our own process for selecting the initial ten nominees.  For this year, then, we dug into our esteemed Advisory Board and tapped Douglas Brinkley (who counts biographer among his long list of accomplishments) to chair a distinguished panel of judges who were tasked with sorting through, reading, digesting, and discussing as many of the biographies published in 2015 as they possibly could. The result of their hard work is the so-called shortlist of ten nominees.

And what nominees they are. This year’s ten nominees, in alphabetical order by author, are:

  • Irrepressible: A Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham by Emily Bingham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage, by Betty Boyd Caroli (Simon & Schuster)
  • Restless Ambition: Grace Hartigan, Painter, by Cathy Curtis (Oxford)
  • The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon 1952-1961,
       by Irwin F. Gellman (Yale)
  • Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll, by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown)
  • Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne Heller (New Harvest)
  • Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal by Jay Parini (Doubleday)
  • Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell (Viking)
  • Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles (Knopf)
  • Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, by Rosemary Sullivan (Harper)

That’s a pretty distinguished group of books. And here’s something else I really like about this list: we’ve got six books written by women, and five books about women. As Jim Henson might say: “Lovely.”

Next, BIO’s Plutarch Committee will narrow the list to four finalists. Once those finalists have been selected, BIO members will get to vote for which of those four they think should be the Best Biography of the Year. We should receive that list in March, and the winner will be announced at the BIO Conference in June.

By the way, looking back at when I discussed the Plutarch last year at this time, I promised you I’d tell you who the winner was after the vote — and then I never came back and told you who that was.  It was Hermione Lee, for Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.

Jim Henson in Paperback

51yntBdmPAL.jpgAt long last, there’s an official release date — and official cover — for the paperback of Jim Henson: The Biography.  It’ll be coming your way on May 10, 2016.

You can pre-order it on Amazon right here, at Barnes & Noble here, or from IndieBound here. And, of course, you can also order it from your favorite bookstore near you.

Live! From (Upstate) New York!

DSC_0320-280x270While I’ve been trying to keep appearances to a minimum as I finish up work on George Lucas, here’s one I couldn’t resist:

I’ll be giving an hour-long presentation on Jim Henson at the Guilderland Public Library in Guilderland, New York, on Friday, February 19, at 2:00 p.m.  As an added bonus, the library will have several Muppets on display, on loan courtesy of The Jim Henson Legacy.

Which Muppets, you ask? Ah, that’ll be a surprise for me as well.

The Guilderland Public Library is located at 2228 Western Avenue, just northwest of Albany. And did I mention it’s free? Of course it is — so if you’re in the area, come on by.

A New Jim Henson Documentary Debuts in September

Months and months and MONTHS ago, I was interviewed on camera by a crack team of documentarians for a new PBS series called In Their Own Words  —  the first three episodes of which would feature Queen Elizabeth, Muhammad Ali, and (ta dah!) Jim Henson.  Back then, they weren’t quite sure when the series would premiere, but now here it is, all queued up and ready to go on a PBS station near you this September — with the Jim Henson episode slotted for September 15. (Looking over the schedule, it appears there’s also one part of a two-part documentary on Walt Disney airing that evening, so it’s a good night to get your fill of creative geniuses.)

Will I be on camera? I don’t really know; looking at the preview, they got tons of terrific people to talk with them — Frank Oz, Brian and Cheryl Henson, Michael Frith, Neil Patrick Harris — so what are ya looking for ME for anyway? Click on the photo of Jim below and have a look:

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In Their Own Words: Jim Henson, airs on September 15 at 8:00 pm — but check your local listings, as they say. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you.

See You (In Mississippi) in September

While I’ve been keeping speaking engagements to a minimum as I work on George Lucas,  I’m incredibly honored to be asked to speak on Jim Henson at the Mississippi Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the end of September. I’ll be kicking off the Monday morning session on September 28, down in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  For more information, you can check the conference out right here.

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This Week in Mess Making

My mess of books and binders finally became more than a mere desk could accommodate. I’ve now relocated to the dining room table, which I’ve quickly taken over. We’re at 80,000 words and counting–much, much too long already, but c’mon, when writing about the guy who brought you Star Wars, it’s really hard to be stingy.

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Latest Desk Update

IMG_1373Yup, it’s still a mess.

Hey Froggy Baybeeeee!

I don’t know who actually posted his — someone calling him/herself “Henson Rarities” — but whoever they are, they’ve posted on YouTube one of my all-time favorite Muppet variety show appearances. It’s Kermit and Grover performing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1970, and it’s a thing of beauty, even with the terrible condition of the video. (Nerd note: Unofficial Official Muppet Historian Craig Shemin actually found a much higher-quality, full color version of this that he unveiled in New York a few years ago, and lemme tell ya, it is a beaut.)

Just One Person: An Excerpt from JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY

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A NOTE FROM BRIAN:
I usually prefer to celebrate a subject’s date of birth rather than observe the day he died. But it’s worth noting that twenty-five years ago today — May 16, 1990 — Jim Henson passed away at 1:21 a.m. in New York.

Readers of Jim Henson: The Biography often tell me that they find the chapter on Jim’s death to be both sad and fascinating, especially as the circumstances of Jim’s death have, for the last two-and-a-half decades, been misinterpreted, misreported, or just plain misunderstood. I appreciate hearing that readers find this portion of the book as gratifying as they do heartbreaking. You can thank the Henson family for their openness in discussing Jim’s death, and for providing me with the honor — and responsibility — of reading Jim’s medical records from that day in May 1990.

As we remember Jim on the occasion of his passing, then, I thought I’d do something a bit different. I’m posting below — perhaps for only a limited time — an excerpt from the chapter “Just One Person,” from Jim Henson: The Biography, on the days leading up to and including Jim’s death. We’ll begin on Saturday, May 12, 1990, with Jim and his daughter Cheryl flying to North Carolina to visit his father Paul and stepmother Bobby. Continue reading