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2012: Varieties of Biography

4th Annual Conference on Biography

Varieties of Biography

Thursday, March 29, 2012
11am - 8pm
Elebash Recital Hall

The Leon Levy Center for Biography is proud to present its 4th Annual Conference, "Varieties of Biography," featuring novelist E.L. Doctorow and 15 eminent biographers, including Sylvia NasarDebby ApplegateBrad Gooch, and John Matteson, as well as graphic artists such as underground comics innovator Kim Deitch. Lectures and panel discussions will cover topics ranging from writing ancient biography to the uses of biography in contemporary fiction. The full roster of biographers includes Gary GiddinsNeil BaldwinDavid EvanierMargo JeffersonJames KaplanNancy MilfordJames MillerJames RommAmanda VaillKatharina Volk, and Geoffrey Wolff, and graphic artists Miriam KatinMatt MaddenLauren Redniss, and Ariel Schrag.





11 am
Introductory Remarks
Gary Giddins, Executive Director

11:30 am 
Crossing the Line: Biographies of Men by Women and Women by Men
John Matteson, Debby Applegate, Brad Gooch, Sylvia Nasar

12:30 pm
Lunch Break

2 pm 
Biographers of "The Lost Generation"
Amanda Vaill, Neil Baldwin, Nancy Milford, Geoffrey Wolff

3 pm
Comic and Graphic Arts Biography
Matt Madden, Kim Deitch, Miriam Katin, Lauren Redniss, Ariel Schrag

4:15 pm 
Biographers of American Singers
Gary Giddins, David Evanier, Margo Jefferson, James Kaplan

5:15 pm 
Examining Ancient Lives: Classical Biography
James Romm, James Miller, Katharina Volk

6:30 pm
Lecture on Biography in Fiction
E.L. Doctorow



Debby Applegate is the author of The Most Famous Man in America: the Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of the best books of 2006 by The New York Times Book Review, NPR's Fresh AirWashington PostSeattle TimesChicago TribuneSan Francisco Chronicle, and American Heritage Magazine. She has taught at Yale University, where she earned her PhD in American Studies, and at Wesleyan. She has taught master classes on writing biography and memoir at the Marymount Manhattan College Writing Center, and is currently writing a biography entitled Madam: The Notorious Life and Times of Polly Adler, forthcoming from Doubleday.

Neil Baldwin served as the founding executive director of the National Book Awards for fifteen years before joining the faculty at Montclair State University, where he is Professor of Theater and Dance in the College of the Arts, and Director of the Creative Research Center. He has written biographies of William Carlos Williams, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Man Ray. His screenplay for the PBS American Masters documentary Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde, based on his book, was nominated for an Emmy Award. His book Legends of the Plumed Serpent, Biography of a Mexican God, will be published as an e-book by PublicAffairs in 2012.

Kim Deitch is a preeminent underground cartoonist who grew up in the animation business. He began doing comic strips for the East Village Other in 1967, introducing two of his more famous characters, Waldo the Cat and Uncle Ed, the Indian Rubber Man. In 1969, he became an editor of Gothic Blimp Works, the Other's underground comics tabloid. "The Mishkin Saga" was named one of the best English-language comics of the 20th century by The Comics Journal, and the first issue of The Stuff of Dreams received an Eisner Award in 2003. His graphic novel Boulevard of Broken Dreams charts the early days of American animation, and The Search for Smilin' Ed! captures the wackiness of children's TV. In 2008, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art featured a retrospective exhibition of his work.

E.L. Doctorow is the Lewis and Loretta Glucksman Professor in American Letters and English at New York University. His novels include The Book of Daniel, a National Book Award nominee in 1972; Ragtime, which received the first National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1976; World's Fair, which won the 1986 National Book Award; Billy Bathgate, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the William Dean Howells medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1990; Waterworks; City of God; and The March, which received the 2006 PEN/Faulkner Award, the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He has published two collections of short fiction, and three volumes of essays. His novel Homer & Langley was published in 2009. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1998, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal. His work has been published in more than 30 languages.

David Evanier is the author of eight books, including Roman Candles: The Life of Bobby DarinMaking the Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli StoryWho's Sorry Now (with Joe Pantoliano), and The Great Kisser, a novel. He is a former senior editor of The Paris Review, a winner of the Aga Khan Fiction Prize, and his work has appeared in Best American Short StoriesNew York MagazineThe New York TimesThe Village VoiceThe Nation, and many other publications. He has been a fellow of the Macdowell Colony, a fellow of Yaddo and of the Wurlitzer Foundation, Writer-in-Residence at The Writers Community, a longtime member of the Writers Room, and has taught creative writing at UCLA, and Douglas College in Vancouver.

Gary Giddins is the Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and a member of the CUNY Graduate Center faculty in American Studies. He is an eminent music critic and the prize-winning author of twelve books, including biographies of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. He is now working on the second volume of his definitive biography of Bing Crosby. The first volume, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, received the 2001 Gleason Award for Music Book of the Year. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award for his Visions of Jazz, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Journalists Association, a Peabody Award, a Grammy, and an unmatched six Deems Taylor Awards for Excellence in Music Criticism. His latest book, Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema, was published by Norton in 2010.

Brad Gooch is the author of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, 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, and Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America, as well as three novels, two memoirs, a collection of short stories, and a collection of poems. The recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim fellowships, he is a professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey. Gooch is currently writing a biography of the thirteenth century Sufi poet and mystic Rumi.

Margo Jefferson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic and Professor of Writing at the Columbia University School of the Arts. She has been a staff writer for The New York Times and Newsweek, and her reviews and essays have appeared in New York MagazineGrand StreetVogueHarper's, and elsewhere. Jefferson's book On Michael Jackson was published in 2006. She has also written and performed two theater pieces at The Cherry Lane Theatre and The Culture Project.

James Kaplan has written essays and reviews, as well as more than one hundred major profiles, appearing in The New YorkerThe New York Times MagazineVanity FairEsquire, New York, and elsewhere. He is the author of two novels, a nonfiction portrait of JFK airport, and is the co-author of the bestselling autobiography of John McEnroe, You Cannot Be Serious, and, with Jerry Lewis, he is co-author of Dean and Me: A Love Story. Doubleday published Frank: The Voice, the first volume of his definitive biography of Frank Sinatra, in 2010, and will publish the second volume Sinatra: The Chairman, in 2014.

Miriam Katin created the acclaimed Holocaust autobiography We Are On Our Own, as well as comics including Eucalyptus Nights and Curried Away. Her work has been nominated for an Eisner Award and earned The Inkpot Award of Comic-Con International, and the Grand Prix de la Critique from France's ACBD, Association des Critiques et journalistes de Band DessinĂ©e (its Association of Journalists and Reviewers of Comics). Katin published her first autobiographical works later in life after a career as a background artist for Jumbo Pictures, MTV Animation, and Disney Studio. 

Matt Madden is a cartoonist who also teaches comics and drawing at the School of Visual Arts. His recent work includes 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (Penguin), a collection of his comics adaptation of Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style; a translation from the French of Aristophane's The Zabime Sisters (First Second); and Drawing Words & Writing Pictures (First Second), a comics textbook written in collaboration with his wife, Jessica Abel. They are also series editors for The Best American Comics from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Mastering Comics, their follow-up to DW&WP, was published by First Second in the spring of 2012.

John Matteson is the Deputy Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, and Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is the author of Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and The Lives of Margaret Fuller, published by Norton in 2012. His writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe New England QuarterlyStreams of William JamesLeviathan, and elsewhere.

Nancy Milford is the author of Zelda, which was a New York Times bestseller, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was translated into 12 languages. She has been a Fulbright Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a founder of the Writers Room, and a Literary Lion at The New York Public Library. She wrote the bestselling Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and she is currently working on a biography of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Milford is the founding Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography.

James Miller is Chair of Liberal Studies and Professor of Politics at the New School for Social Research. His books include The Passion of Michel Foucault, an essay on the French philosopher, and Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy, a study of the origins of modern democracy. His latest book is Examined Lives, From Socrates to Nietzsche, published by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2011.


Sylvia Nasar is the author of A Beautiful Mind, a biography of John Nash, which inspired the Academy Award-winning film and was translated into 30 languages. She was an economics correspondent for The New York Times, and is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Business Journalism at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in The New YorkerVanity FairNewsweek, and other leading publications. Her new book is Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius, published by Simon & Schuster in 2011.


Lauren Redniss is the author of Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziefeld Follies, and Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, which was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for nonfiction. Her writing and drawing have appeared in The New York Times. She has been a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library, a New York Institute for the Humanities fellow, and is currently Artist-in-Residence at the American Museum of Natural History. She teaches at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City.


James Romm is an author and the James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College. He specializes in ancient Greek and Macedonian history, and has worked on imperial Rome. He has held the Guggenheim Fellowship, various fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was the Birkelund Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library. He is the author of Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire, published by Knopf in 2011, and he is currently working on a book on Seneca.

Ariel Schrag is an Eisner Award nominee for her autobiographical graphic novels AwkwardDefinitionPotential, and Likewise, which chronicle her four years at Berkeley High School in California. The series is currently in development as a feature film. She edited and contributed to the anthology Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age, and writes the online comic Ariel and Kevin Invade Everything, with Kevin Seccia. She wrote for the Showtime series The L Word, and now writes for HBO's series How to Make It in America.

Amanda Vaill is the author of Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins, for which she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and of Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sarah Murphy - A Lost Generation Love Story, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award in biography. She wrote the screenplay for the PBS documentary Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About, which won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award. Her next project is a work of narrative historical nonfiction, Hotel Florida: Love and Death in Spain, 1936-1939.


Katharina Volk is the Chair and Professor of Classics at Columbia University. She is the author of, among other books, Manilius and his Intellectual Background, which won the Lionel Trilling Book Award, and an editor of Seeing Seneca Whole: Perspectives on Philosophy, Poetry and Politics. Her Ovid, an introduction to the Latin poet, was published by Oxford in 2010.

Geoffrey Wolff is a novelist, essayist, and biographer. He has received the Award in Literature of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Academy in Berlin, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is the author of six novels; a memoir, The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and three biographies: Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry CrosbyThe Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O'Hara; and The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum. He taught for many years at the University of California, Irvine, where he was professor of English and comparative literature, and director of its Graduate Fiction Program.