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2009: New Forms: Rethinking Biography

First Annual Conference on Biography

New Forms: Biography for the 21st Century

Thursday, March 26, 2009
1:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Elebash Recital Hall

The first annual conference on biography at The Leon Levy Center for Biography will explore biography in all of its many guises. The conference schedule begins with a film screening and features talks by biographers working in a variety of genre and disciplines, ranging from literary biography and jazz studies to curatorial science.



1:00-2:35 pm
My Best Fiend- Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog (1999)

3:00-3:45 pm
Literary Biography for the 21st Century
Benita Eisler joined by John Matteson

4:00-4:45 pm
Framing Biography in Manga (Graphic Novels) and Anime (Animation)
Eiji Han Shimizu joined by Kai-Ming Cha

5:00-5:45 pm
Intersections of Biography and Jazz Studies- A Conversation
Farah Griffin and Salim Washington joined by Micheal Veal

6:00-6:45 pm
The Journalist as Biographer
Darcy Frey joined by Robert Vare

7:00-7:45 pm
Curating Biography
Staff members of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution:
Sid Hart, Senior Historian & Jewell Robinson, Director of Public Programs joined by Rachel Brownstein

Schedule subject to change.

Unless otherwise noted, all events are FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. We do not offer reserve seating. Please arrive early to get a seat.



Kai-Ming Cha
Kai-Ming Cha covers comics and manga for PW Comics Week. Her reviews have also appeared in Kirkus Reviews,, Entertainment Weekly, and She is currently at work on a beginners guide to manga and is writing an essay for the Nation, Abu Dhabi, on Yoshihiro Tatsumi's forthcoming manga memoir, A Drifting Life.

Benita Eisler
A native New Yorker, Benita Eisler was educated at Smith and Harvard. She has worked as an art editor, reporter, on-camera correspondent, and producer of arts programming for pubic television. Her interest in the varieties of artistic expression is reflected in her teaching and writing: She has taught the nineteenth- and twentieth century novel at Princeton and is the author of biographies of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz; Lord Byron, and Frédéric Chopin. She lives in Manhattan.

Darcy Frey
Darcy Frey is the author of The Last Shot (Houghton-Mifflin, 1994), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and George Divoky's Planet (forthcoming from Pantheon). He has also been a Contributing Editor for Harper's Magazine and a longtime Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine, for which he has written about science, medicine, technology, music, art, and the environment. His essays and journalism have been anthologized in Best American Essays and Best American Science Writing. His honors include a National Magazine Award, the Livingston Award for Young Journalists, and an award for public service from the Society for Professional Journalists. He is currently the Briggs-Copeland lecturer in nonfiction writing at Harvard.

Farah Jasmine Griffin
Farah Jasmine Griffin is a professor of English and comparative literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, where she serves as director of the Institute for Research in African American studies. Her most recent book Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever was written with co-author Salim Washington and published by Thomas Dunne Books in 2008. She is also the author of "Who Set You Flowin'": The African-American Migration Narrative and If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday, and has edited several collections of letters and essays. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Harper's Bazaar, Callaloo, and African American Review, and she is also a frequent commentator on WNPR’s News & Notes.

Sidney Hart
Sidney Hart is Senior Historian of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and Editor of the Peale Family Papers. He received his doctorate from Clark University. Hart has edited five volumes of The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, and has authored articles on Peale in several scholarly publications. His specialties include the political and cultural history of the American Revolution and the early national period, twentieth-century political history, and the American presidency. Hart has curated "The Presidency and the Cold War," "Herblock's Presidents," "Presidents-in-Waiting" (with co-curator, James Barber), an examination of the fourteen Vice-Presidents who succeeded to the presidency, and is currently working on a bicentennial exhibit of the War of 1812.

John Matteson
John Matteson is an Associate Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. A Princeton University graduate, he has earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Before pursuing his doctorate in English, Professor Matteson worked as a litigation attorney in California and North Carolina. His scholarship in nineteenth-century American literature includes articles published in Leviathan, Streams of William James, and the New England Quarterly. His first book, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Biography.

Jewell Robinson
Jewell Robinson is the Public Program Director for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, where she conceives, produces, writes, and occasionally performs in National Portrait Gallery's Cultures in Motion Series. Armed with a liberal arts education, a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, an interest in history, and a professional background in the theatrical performance, she came to the Portrait Gallery with the specific task of creating programming that would educate the public about the lives of the sitters in the gallery’s permanent collection and special exhibitions, with a particular focus on showcasing the diversity that the collection represents.

Eiji Han Shimizu
Eiji Han Shimizu is head of Emotional Content, a collective of Japanese manga artists who adapt and publish the biographies of 20th-century visionaries like the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Che Guevara in the graphic novel format. Shimizu calls these manga-styled works "BioGraphic Novels." Based in Los Angeles and Yokohama, Japan, the small publishing venture first showcased its books at the Frankfurt Book Fair and published its first biographic novel, The 14th Dalai Lama by Tetsu Saiwai, last summer. Additional projects include recent biographic novels on Mother Teresa and Che Guevara. Forthcoming titles include works on the imprisoned Burmese democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Gandhi and Anne Frank. Born in Japan to Korean parents, Eiji Han Shimizu received his undergraduate and MBA degrees in the United States.

Robert Vare
Robert Vare is the editor at large of The Atlantic Monthly. He is a former editor at The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Magazine, where, in 1991, he edited the Pulitzer Prize-winning cover story "Grady’s Gift." He has edited two anthologies: Things Worth Fighting For (2004), a posthumously published collection of writings by Michael Kelly, the former Atlantic editor-in-chief who was killed while covering the war in Iraq, and The American Idea: 150 Years of Writers and Thinkers Who Shaped Our History (2007), a sesquicentennial celebration of the Atlantic's finest moments in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, he has taught narrative nonfiction writing at Yale and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Michael E. Veal
Michael E. Veal is a musician and scholar. He is currently Professor of Ethnomusicology at Yale University, and the author of Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon (Temple University Press) and Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (Wesleyan University Press). His forthcoming book Technotopia 1969 is about the music of Miles Davis. Professor Veal is also a bassist and saxophonist and leader of the Aqua Ife big band and the Aqua Ife small group.

Michael Salim Washington
Associate Professor Michael Salim Washington, a faculty member of the Conservatory of Music of Brooklyn College, CUNY is on a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, in Durban, from January through August 2009 on the subject of "The Aesthetics and Social Valences of South African Jazz." An accomplished saxophonist, Washington has led two bands, the Roxbury Blues Aesthetic and the Harlem Arts Ensemble. He has recorded four CDs as a bandleader, including Love in Exile and Harlem Homecoming. He is an avid composer and teaches music and Africana Studies at Brooklyn College. His book with co-author Farah Jasmine Griffin, Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever was published by Thomas Dunne Books in 2008.