What literary biographies teach us

“The literary bio is an oddly enduring genre. People who read have always been interested in the story behind the stories, but you’d think that of all the people you might want to know more about, writers would probably be somewhere near the bottom of the list. After all, most of them don’t actually do very much but sit at a desk somewhere and write. That’s their job. And aside from what can be gleaned from autobiographies and memoirs (an entertaining but not very trustworthy genre that becomes even more doubtful when penned by people who have spent their lives making things up), an author’s rich inner life, crucible for the imaginative alchemy that transforms experience into art, has to be pieced together mainly from circumstantial evidence.

So what’s the take away? One of the reasons we read biography is for the life lessons they offer. While there are infinite paths to immortal literary fame, what helpful hints can be gleaned from the lives of the greats:

First, experience a traumatic episode early in your childhood or youth that you will then be able to draw upon for inspiration and raw material for the rest of your life.

Second, find yourself a self-denying partner who will support you and accept your eccentricities, moodiness, alcoholism and infidelities as expressions of your genius.

Finally, have a lot of kids and give up other hostages to fortune so that you will be compelled by financial necessity to keep writing.”

More: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/bookreviews/article/1140789–dickens-tolstoy-j-g-ballard-and-kurt-vonnegut-were-literary-geniuses-in-these-bios-other-writers-try-to-capture-what-made-them-so-writerly

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One response to “What literary biographies teach us

  1. Evan Paul

    Writer bios are all too often after the fact analysis. Writers have an important place in the list of occupations but few would argue that the talent that makes them able to sell their work is innate. Those that actually profit by their work are in the vast minority. Why?
    Language is the only instant method of personal human communication and the spoken language is the only acceptably retractable form. Writers publish their work in a most indelible medium. They are forever held responsible for their words. Conversational, interviews and artful commentary are soft commitments. Any error is apologetically rescinded.
    recognized published works earn attention and attract investment. The obligatory bio is rarely attached to a writer’s lapel.

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