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Author Stacy Schiff, who won a Pulitzer for her biography of Vera Nabokov, is one of the speakers at the Biographers International Organization conference. (Photo by: Elena Seibert)
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Conference speaker Annette Gordon-Reed won a Pulitzer for her book "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family." (Photo by: Tony Rinaldo)
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Kitty Kelley is known for her best-selling, unauthorized biographies of high-profile subjects such as Oprah Winfrey, Frank Sinatra, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Elizabeth Taylor. (Photo by: Phillip Bermingham)
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Conference speaker T.J. Stiles won a Pulitzer for his book "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt." (Photo by: Michael Lionstar)
Hide your old love letters and wipe those computer drives. Biography writers from across the globe, including notorious celebrity chronicler Kitty Kelley and Pulitzer Prize winners Annette Gordon-Reed, T.J. Stiles and Stacy Schiff, will hold their annual conference at the Richmond Marriott Downtown from June 3 to 5.
More than 150 scribes are scheduled to attend readings of new biographies, and hold panel discussions on everything from choosing a subject to writing biographical fiction, peopled by the likes of presidential historians Douglas Brinkley and Evan Thomas, and James Atlas, founding editor of the Penguin Lives biography series.
“There aren’t as many of us as there are fiction writers or novelists,” says Richmond native Heath Hardage Lee, author of “Winnie Davis: Daughter of The Lost Cause” and a site committee member and new board member of the hosting Biographers International Organization (BIO). She and other local biographers, including Dean King, author of “Skeletons on the Zahara,” lobbied for BIO to come to Richmond for its annual conference, previously held in bigger cities like Los Angeles and Washington.
“We wanted to show off the city and managed to convince the board to try it out,” says Lee. “As a writer, I’m so inspired by Richmond and that feeling of authenticity and history is what we want to introduce to the members.”
This year’s keynote address will be given at noon on June 4 by 2016 BIO Award winner Claire Tomalin, acclaimed for her tomes on Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. There will be tours of Hollywood Cemetery, the Virginia Historical Society and the Library of Virginia, which will also host the gala fundraiser.
BIO was founded in 2010 by James McGrath Morris, the author of acclaimed books on Joseph Pulitzer and civil rights leader Ethel Payne.
“It’s great to have the storytelling, but you have to have the research, the documentation,” Lee says, describing the organization’s high standards for its members. “Biographers are very different than fiction writers. You have to be accurate, you can’t just make things up.”
Conference registration is $320 for BIO members, $430 for nonmembers; registration for only the keynote talk and lunch is $60. In any biography of Richmond, craft beer would merit a chapter. The conference will conclude on June 5, from noon to 3 p.m., with a free BIO Book Bash at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, where biographers will mingle with readers, sign books and spill foam arguing about proper footnoting, or whether James Boswell’s seminal “Life of Samuel Johnson” was a true biography or not. Co-sponsored by Chop Suey Books, the bash is a First Edition.
“This will be the organization’s very first public event,” Lee says.