Sunday, August 1

Author Biographies: Yea or Nay?

What do you get out of them as a writer? If you (like me) do not read author bios, why not? If you had to read one, which author would you select?

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I went through a quick Hemingway phase in high school, reading A Farewell to Arms for class and The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises on my own time. (Seriously, how excellent with titles was that man?) Someplace throughout that time my mom thunked a 600-page Hemingway bio on my desk and said I should read it.

I was like Umm, why?

Theres a brand-new 900-page bio of Philip Roth. Ive checked out about 80 pages of Roth in my life, or nevertheless long Goodbye, Columbus is. And I have little to no additional interest in him.

But my pal and fellow Yak Baby Aaron loves Philip Roth. Philip Roth is his favorite author. And in a recent episode of the podcast, he informs me he prepares to read the new Roth bio … although he hasnt even finished all of Roths own work.

Your turn: Name a writer as good as or much better than Hemingway with book titles. What do you think about Hemingway? Would you check out a 600-page bio of his life?

Yes, thats Hemingways own take on Hemingway, and according to Hemingway, Hemingway could do little incorrect.

But even if he d never blogged about his life I still would not care to read somebody elses (most likely inclined) reporting on it. If Im going to spend 600 pages worth of my reading life with Hemingway, I want it to be spent checking out Hemingway. Or reading about his work itself.

I like Zadie Smith. Ive checked out all of her novels. Here is the order in which I d have an interest in finding out more:.

I do not judge this! I hope Aaron reads the Roth bio and enjoys it. I simply cant manage to believe my method into that level of interest in an author outside of that writers own work. There are a lot of authors whose work Ive checked out and gone over and will continue to reread, but none of them as people interest me to that degree.


Farewell, 900-Page Roth Bio.

Sure, he had an interesting life. Much of which I can discover by reading his own work– he discussed his life plenty, in nonfiction( ish) such as A Moveable Feast and in much of his fiction.

1. The books themselves, a 2nd time.

2. A critical analysis of the books.

3. Anything Smith has actually written about the writing of the books.

4. Smiths present to-do/grocery list.

5. A 900-page collection of Zadie Smiths letters.

6. A 900-page bio, even if it consists of information about the books and about Smiths life while she wrote them.

Perhaps I just havent found my Philip Roth.

Or, most likely, Im far more thinking about any given authors fictional worlds than I am in that authors truth


Your Turn!

Who is your Philip Roth? If you could (or needed to!) read a bio of any writer, which author would you pick and why?

If you do check out author bios, do you have a preferred? What do you get out of them as a reader? What do you get out of them as a writer?

If somebody were to compose your bio, what would you want its title to be?

WriteByNight writing coach and co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has discussed books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

We work with authors of all experience levels working in all genres. If you had to check out one, which author would you choose? Philip Roth is his favorite author. There are plenty of authors whose work Ive read and reread and will continue to go over, but none of them as people interest me to that degree.


What do you get out of them as a writer?

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