Biography & Autobiography

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At Home in the World

At Home in the World

JOHN UPDIKE never wanted a biographer, but he wrote an essay, “On Literary Biography,” in honor of the 200th volume produced by the Dictionary of Literary Biography. (The essay partly appeared in ...

How Cherokee Territory Became the “Deep South”

How Cherokee Territory Became the “Deep South”

ON THE MORNING of March 27, 1814, two men found themselves on opposite ends of a battlefield, with the Tallapoosa River and about 100 acres of Native American land between them. One was General Andrew...

Season of Saul

Season of Saul

ROLAND BARTHES once said that “the only sort of interview that one could, if forced to, defend would be where the author is asked to articulate what he cannot write.” One could set a similar stand...

Life Was Fiction in Disguise

Life Was Fiction in Disguise

THE POET James Merrill received his first negative review when he was 16. It was written by one of his teachers and published in the high school paper. Although appreciative of Merrill’s verse, the...

Beyond the Shadow of Samuel Johnson

Beyond the Shadow of Samuel Johnson

“I WAS SURE I had genius, and was not deficient in easiness of expression, but was at a loss for something to say, and, when I set myself seriously to think of writing, that I wanted a subject.” S...

The Method Singer

The Method Singer

THERE SHE STANDS in the spotlight on a dark stage, an elegant woman wearing a white gown and a white gardenia in her hair. Depending on the year, Eleanora Fagan is either young and fresh and radiant, ...

Finding Susan

Finding Susan

IF YOU READ ANYTHING about Susan Sontag written since her death in 2004, it won’t take long for you to stumble across the fact that she could be, as Terry Castle puts it in her agonizingly generous...

An African American Life?

An African American Life?

NO ONE’S SURPRISED to learn that millions of African Americans in the 19th century were slaves. Even the poorest student of US history has a hard time ignoring this fact. But for those of us who te...

Richard Pryor’s Comedy of Fear

Richard Pryor’s Comedy of Fear

POETS, ROCK STARS, and Method actors may go to emotional extremes for their art, but we require a little more sobriety from stand-up comedians. Our contract with them is tight: we pay them for laughs ...

After The Fall

After The Fall

THERE’S A CERTAIN doggedness required to play the bass: a sonic obligation to carry the weight of others while keeping things together. It’s no surprise, then, that the recent biography from Steve...

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Me

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Me

WHEN I WAS A GIRL, I thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder as my grandmother, sort of. My mother had grown up in Missouri, down the road from Rocky Ridge Farm during the years Wilder was there writing the L...

How I Got Over: The Soul of Aretha Franklin

How I Got Over: The Soul of Aretha Franklin

DAVID RITZ’S new biography of Aretha Franklin, Respect, is not the book Franklin wanted written. The Queen of Soul already published the book she wanted, From These Roots, which Ritz himself ghostwr...

Unique Justice

Unique Justice

IT WAS HARD to force myself to finish reading this biography of Antonin Scalia. Reading nearly 500 pages about someone I dislike is an enormous chore. For many reasons, I am not a fan of Scalia. I am...