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Frequently Asked Questions

What will I learn from an M.A. in Biography and Memoir?

Biography is an arduous profession. The typical biography can take four or five years to research and write. Some biographers spend a full decade or more to finish their work. It is expensive and time-consuming work. Nevertheless, the profession persists. The biography and memoir program seeks to train new generations of aspiring biographers and show them how to accelerate the pace of their research and writing, while still producing a scholarly piece of work. With that in mind, our program teaches students how to efficiently find sources and do the research that underpins every scholarly piece of work. It also teaches students how to craft a biography to make it readable and engaging while still based on exacting research.  

Who are the current students?













Keith A. Dames
(kdames@gradcenter.cuny.edu) originally from Miami, Florida, earned his H.S. diploma from Miami Jackson Senior High School. Mr. Dames earned an A.A. Degree in Liberal Arts (Music,Theatre & Dance) from Miami Dade Community College North-Campus. He has trained as a Modern Dancer In NYC at the world famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Center on their Certificate Program, and earned a B.F.A in Modern Dance, Choreography & Pedagogy and a M.S.E.D. in Education (Educational Theatre) from the City College of New York. . Currently he  is also the Vocalist/Bandleader of the Jazz & Blues Band "Kat's in Black Hats" - a quartet rhythm section of piano, bass, guitar & drums.  Mr. Dames considers himself a student of the Billie Holiday School of Music and pays homage to Ms. Holiday annually around her birthday every April 7th. Mr. Dames aspires to write a biography on Ms. Billie Holiday which will be entitled Homage to Eleanora: A Musical Journey Through The Billie Holiday Songbook.



Jennifer Skoog (
jskoog@gradcenter.cuny.edu) is a Harlem-based writer who hails from a farm in Minnesota. She is the youngest of nine and an aunt to more than sixty-five people. After she moved to New York City, Jenny became a “bride to baby” personal trainer and got her own TV show that earned her an Emmy nod. She studied Writing and Black Studies at City College and got published in The Promethean. She is currently working on a memoir at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Biography & Memoir program about the trauma of leaving her childhood religious sect. 
 


Anjelica M. Enaje
(she/her - aenaje@gradcenter.cuny.edu) is a second-generation Filipina American with Bikolana roots, born, raised, and still residing in New York. She joined the M.A. in Biography and Memoir program in Fall 2019, with a focus on memoir writing with some academic research. Her thesis project is a memoir/literary criticism and analysis of the Maria Clara archetype, drawing from Jose Rizal's 1887 novel, Noli Me Tangere.  Ms. Enaje graduated from CUNY Hunter College in 2015, where she studied Sociology, English/Creative Writing, and Asian American Studies. She was a cast member of the 2016 production of Raised Pinay, and had been featured in the podcast show, The Filipino American Woman Project, in 2019. She runs a website called {getLITfilam}, which surveys literary works by and about people of Filipino-descent. She hopes that her work will help to expand the ever-growing, complex body of Filipinx narratives.



Walker Simon
 (walker.simon@gmail.com) comes to the Graduate Center after a 35-year career as a journalist with the Reuters news agency, for which he reported from 19 countries, most of them in Latin America and the Caribbean. He was raised in Mexico.  Recently, he won prizes for his documentary film “Antonio Norales: Garifuna Guardian,” and he produces a bilingual television program on Latin American art in New York. He co-authored a chapter on Central Americans for the book “Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition,” published by the Notre Dame University Press. His biography project is on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their relation to Judaism and the circle of their close Jewish friends, for which he has already tapped numerous archives in the United States and Mexico and consulted hundreds of books and articles.


Iliana Emilia Garcia (igarcia1@gradcenter.cuny.edu) works in big format drawings on canvas and paper, escalating installations, printmaking and digital photos on canvas depicting her most iconic symbol: the chair. The base of her work is the emotional history of everyday things. It’s not about the geographical or physical history, but about the value we give to what we keep from the landscapes we come from; and that we unconsciously keep with us through crossroads. The symbols that seem to breed from the memory of our heritage. (from her website, http://www.ilianaemilia.com)
 

What kinds of specializations do you offer? Can I create my own?

Students may choose to specialize in one of two areas of concentration: political/historical biography or literary/artistic biography. Either of these concentrations represents a different aspect of biography, and, by focusing coursework within a broad topic area, students will be better prepared for their biographical work or for Ph.D. programs and careers in the field.

What will the program prepare me for?

The program will prepare you to become a biographer; memoirist; journalist; historical researcher; archivist; documentarian; oral history practitioner; creative nonfiction writer; or a Ph.D. student in English, History, or other fields. Building on the reputation and academic initiatives of The Graduate Center’s Leon Levy Center for Biography, established in 2007 as a hub for writers, scholars, students, teachers, and readers of biography, the program also connects you to independent and university-affiliated biographers across disciplines.
 
Students in the biography and memoir program acquire research and writing skills that are highly valued in a 21st-century job market. Some graduates will use their M.A. thesis as a virtual book proposal, earning a contract from a trade publisher to turn their work into a full-fledged biography. Others might use the credential to obtain employment as entry-level editors in the publishing industry, or as journalists. Still others might use the M.A. program to enter a wide range of doctoral programs in the humanities at The Graduate Center or other institutions.

The skills learned in a biography program are valuable not only for producing biographies, but also for operating in myriad areas that require research and writing skills and the perspective needed to present an individual personality in a specific context. Some examples include

  • Journalism, including, particularly, the interviewing, research, fact-checking and reporting skills that are essential for journalists;
  • Producing profiles, which are basically abridged biographies and are a popular and sought-after genre within journalism as a whole; and
  • Technical writing and work in public relations, since many institutions seek trained writers who can highlight the accomplishments of their leading members for both internal and external audiences

These endeavors rest on the same skills as full-scale biographies, including those of interviewing, data gathering, and illuminating a life experience with clarity and perspective.

What kinds of backgrounds do you expect students to have?

Students come to the study of biography and memoir from many different backgrounds. Some have undergraduate academic backgrounds in English, history, or other analytic fields with an emphasis on writing. Some wish to supplement their existing writing credentials, whether as published writers, M.F.A.s, or aspiring memoirists whose writing so far has been largely personal, with rigorous training in archival research and interview techniques. Some work part-time and desire training in a burgeoning genre and lucrative publishing market in order to diversify their intellectual activities. All in all, the biography and memoir program is open to all students hungry for the skills necessary to write compelling memoirs or tackle full-scale biographies.

How do I apply?

You'll need:

  • A completed online application form: Prospective students must submit an application form through the Graduate Center's online application system.
  • A personal statement: Explain why you want to obtain this degree and how your interests and academic/professional background are relevant. Up to 1000 words.
  • A writing sample: A compelling essay or research paper of no more than 2,000 words.
  • A Curriculum Vitae: A resume or CV listing any work and personal experiences that may be relevant.
  • Two letters of recommendation: Please provide letters of recommendation from academic or professional references who can appraise your academic or professional achievement and promise. The letters must be received by the admissions deadline.
  • A $75 non-refundable application fee: The application fee is waived for United States Armed Services Veterans, and McNair Scholars.
  • Higher Education transcripts: Transcripts must be submitted from each college or university attended even if you did not complete a degree or did not enroll in courses in your current field. International applicants who submit transcripts not issued in English must also include a certified English transcript accompanying the transcript. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in the United States, or its equivalent abroad, with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 (B average) or higher. If applicable the transcript must list the official graduation date.
  •  GRE scores: GRE scores taken within the past five years are required for admission. Program faculty recognize, however, that GRE scores do not always fully capture applicants’ talents or preparation, especially so for those from other countries or those who have been out of school for some years. We carefully consider applicants’ entire admissions packages, of which GRE scores are only one element.
  • International Applicants - English Proficiency: Applicants must submit scores from either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) unless they have a post-secondary degree from an institution in which the language of instruction is English-only and located in a country that recognizes English as an Official Language.

How important are the GRE scores?

GRE scores taken within the past five years are required for admission, and they cannot be waived. Program faculty recognize, however, that GRE scores do not always fully capture applicants’ talents or preparation, especially so for those from other countries or those who have been out of school for some years. We carefully consider applicants’ entire admissions packages, of which GRE scores are only one element.

How can I meet professors and other prospective students?

The best way is to come to an open house, which will allow you to informally meet other interested applicants and other Biography and Memoir community members. 
 
Our open house dates are listed here.

How long will the program take to complete?

The M.A. program is a 30-credit program, and how quickly students complete it depends on their chosen course load. For example, full-time students taking 9 credits (three courses) or more per semester can finish in a year and a half to two years; part-time students taking 6 credits (two courses) per semester will finish in two and half years.

How much does the program cost?

Information on Graduate Center tuition and fees can be found here.

For master’s students entering in Fall 2020, The Graduate Center will offer Dean’s Merit Scholarships to a limited number of master’s degree students each year.

Does the program offer online courses?

All courses are offered at The Graduate Center as in-person courses, which usually meet once a week.

Will I find a community at The Graduate Center?

You are likely to find many other students in the biography and memoir program, and in related master’s and doctoral programs, such as English, comparative literature, history, and psychology, who share your interests. Through the Leon Levy Center for Biography you will also be introduced to established biographers in New York City, as well as artists, writers, and agents who collaborate with and present their work at The Graduate Center. 
 
Students at The Graduate Center also participate in many student groups and advocacy organizations, and the institution schedules a vast number of panels and lectures involving faculty and students from varied academic programs as well as other universities in the area.