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.