Writing a Biography

“To be a biographer is a somewhat peculiar endeavor.”

In her introduction to Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Random House, 2001), Nancy Milford wrote:

“To be a biographer is a somewhat peculiar endeavor. It seems to me it requires not only the tact, patience, and thoroughness of a scholar but the stamina of a horse. Virginia Woolf called it “donkeywork” – for who but a domesticated ass would harness herself to what is recoverable of the past and call it A Life? Isn’t there something curious, not to say questionable, about this appetite for other people’s mail, called Letters? What does it mean to be mulish in pursuit of someone else’s life, to be charmed, beguiled even, by the past, if not held fast to it? It isn’t true that it provides insulation from the present. On the contrary, it impinges upon it, for while it is from the terrain of my own life that I work and mine hers, biography is the true story of someone else’s life, not my own.”

When I first read this quote I was in Paris, at Shakespeare and Company in May of 2007. Almost 10 years ago, wow! I was going to the Bibliotheque Nationale every day transcribing letters in the Boulanger collection and walking the streets of Paris during the long nights. I had no idea then how very pertinent it would be to my own process but it helps me now. I use it as the beginning of my “biography rant” which I have performed in various places and which expands each year. It is not unusual for a biography to take 15 years to complete. More on that later.

But now that I have a book contract with the University of Illinois Press, I realized (with some help from my dear writer friend, Ann Fitzmaurice) that it was time for me to start celebrating the evolution of this biography in a more public forum. Hence this blog.

“‘I am NOT a Woman Composer!’ The Life and Music of Louise Talma (1906-1996)” is the working title of the biography I am writing. Stay tuned for more info about this journey.