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2011: Compromising Positions

Third Annual Conference on Biography

Compromising Positions: Biography & Ethics

Thursday, March 10, 2011
Noon - 6:30 p.m.
Elebash Recital Hall

From The Aspern Papers to twenty-first century privacy issues: this year's annual conference focuses on the ethical questions that every biographer confronts. Featured participants include award-winning Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and, most recently, Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean.

Other speakers and panelists: Rachel Cohen, Scott Donaldson, Martin Duberman, Dorothy Gallagher, Brad Gooch, Rochelle Gurstein, Phoebe Hoban, Frances Kiernan, Honor Moore, David Nasaw, Mark Oppenheimer, John Palattella, Daniel Sharfstein, Alex Star, and more.



Noon - 1:15 PM
Simon Winchester on the Ethics of Biography

1:30 PM - 2:30 PM
Family Matters: A Panel on the Ethics of Kinship
Introduced by Honor Moore and followed by a panel discussion with/talks by Mark Oppenheimer, Scott Donaldson, Brad Gooch, moderated by Honor Moore

2:30 PM - 3:00 PM

3:00 PM – 3:45 PM
The Ethics of Reviewing
John Palattella and Alex Star

4:00 PM - 5:15 PM
Shades of Gray in the Picture Trade: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen
Talk by Rachel Cohen
Followed by Panegyric and Pathography: The Vexed Subject
Rachel Cohen, Dorothy Gallagher, Martin Duberman, moderated by David Nasaw

5:30 PM – 6:30 PM
Aspern Papers Recidivus: A Panel on Biography and Privacy
Introduced by Rochelle Gurstein and followed by a panel discussion with Phoebe Hoban, Frances Kiernan, and Daniel Sharfstein, moderated by Rochelle Gurstein

6:30 PM
The Unethical Death of the Author
Closing remarks by Brenda Wineapple



Rachel Cohen
Rachel Cohen is the author of A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists which won the PEN/Jerard Fund Award. Her essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, McSweeney's, Best American Essays, and other publications. She is a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and is currently at work on a biography of Bernard Berenson.

Scott Donaldson
Scott Donaldson has written biographies of such 20th-century American writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish (winner of the 1993 Ambassador Book Award), and Edwin Arlington Robinson. He taught at William and Mary for 30 years before retiring as Louise G.T. Cooley professor of English, emeritus. He recently completed a memoir of Charles A. Fenton, a charismatic teacher of his at Yale, and is now working on a book about the excitements and disappointments of writing biography.

Martin Duberman
Martin Duberman is Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at CUNY, where he founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. He's authored more than 20 books, including Paul Robeson and The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography. Duberman is also a playwright; two of his plays will be produced this year, one in London, the other in Vancouver. His numerous awards include the Bancroft Prize, the Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in Non-Fiction and the American Historical Association's Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Scholarship.

Dorothy Gallagher
Dorothy Gallagher is the author of Hannah's Daughters, an account of a six-generation matrilineal family; All the Right Enemies, a biography of the Italian-American anarchist Carlo Tresca; and two memoirs: How I Came Into My Inheritance and Strangers in the House. Her articles have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and Grand Street. She is currently working on a biography of Lillian Hellman.

Brad Gooch
Brad Gooch's most recent book is Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is also the author of City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara; as well as Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America; three novels; two memoirs; a collection of stories; and a collection of poems. He is a professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey. He is currently writing a biography of the thirteenth-century Sufi poet, Rumi.

Rochelle Gurstein
Rochelle Gurstein is the author of The Repeal of Reticence: America's Cultural and Legal Struggles over Free Speech, Obscenity, Sexual Liberation, and Modern Art. Her essays on intellectual history, aesthetics, and contemporary social and political matters have appeared in Salmagundi, Raritan, and other "little magazines." She currently writes a monthly column for The New Republic On-Line.

Phoebe Hoban
Phoebe Hoban's recently published biography of Alice Neel, Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty, was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by The Village Voice. Her biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Frances Kiernan
Frances Kiernan, the author of Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy and The Last Mrs. Astor, is currently at work on a new biography, The Two Mrs. Lowells [A Tale of Three Writers]. Although there were in fact three Mrs. Lowells, the two who concern her are Elizabeth Hardwick and Caroline Blackwood, who for seven years were entangled with the poet Robert Lowell in what one might call a literary mariage à trois.

Honor Moore
The Bishop's Daughter, Honor Moore's 2008 memoir and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, was published in paperback in May 2009 along with a reissue of her biography, The White Blackbird, A Life of the Painter Margarett Sargent by Her Granddaughter. She is also the author of three collections of poems-- Red Shoes, Darling, and Memoir-- and her play Mourning Pictures, was produced on Broadway and published in The New Women's Theatre: Ten Plays by Contemporary American Women, which she edited.

David Nasaw
David Nasaw is the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His most recent book is Andrew Carnegie, which was awarded the 2007 New York Historical Society Prize in American History and chosen as a Notable Book of 2006 by The New York Times. He is also the author of The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, Schooled to Order: A Social History of Public Schooling, Children of the City: At Work and At Play, and Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusement. He is currently working on a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy.

Mark Oppenheimer
Mark Oppenheimer holds a doctorate in religion, teaches at Yale, and writes the biweekly Beliefs column for The New York Times. He is the author of three previous books, including a memoir, Wisenheimer: A Childhood Subject to Debate. Mr. Oppenheimer's current project is a character study of G.E.M. Anscombe, the English philosopher who was Wittgenstein's greatest pupil. A conservative Catholic convert who had seven children, she wrote a famous pamphlet against contraception, held a famous debate against C. S. Lewis, and famously tried to stop Oxford from awarding an honorary degree to Harry S. Truman on the grounds that he was a mass murderer.

John Palattella
John Palattella is the literary editor of The Nation. He has written for numerous publications, including The Nation, the London Review of Books, and the Boston Review; he is the co-editor of Reporting Iraq: An Oral History of the War by the Journalists Who Covered It.

Daniel Sharfstein
Daniel J. Sharfstein's upcoming book, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, is a multigenerational history of race in American life. It follows three families of African American descent who migrated across the color line and assimilated into white communities at different points in American history. Sharfstein is an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University.

Alexander Star
Alexander Star is the senior editor of The New York Times Book Review

Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester's many books include The Professor and the Madman, The Man Who Loved China, The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, and A Crack in the Edge of the World. Each of these have both been New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. Mr. Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by HM The Queen in 2006. He lives in western Massachusetts.

Brenda Wineapple
Brenda Wineapple is the Distinguished Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography whose most recent book, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, a winner of the Marfield Prize, and New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She is currently writing a book on America, 1848-1877.