Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spotlight on Biographies: Writers

--by Hanje Richards & Peg White

If anything fascinates readers more than reading the latest novel by a favorite writer, it is reading about that writer’s life. Whether shedding light on the meaning of a novel or illuminating the darker corners of a writer’s creative process, literary biography is one of any library’s most popular genres.

This week, to highlight some of the Copper Queen’s holdings in literary biography, our Circulation Desk Display Area is populated with biographies, autobiographies and memoirs of writers. And, there are lots more of them up in the Biography Section, which is the area closest to the public computers on the third floor. Some highlights of our collection:

Isabelle Allende
..My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile: Isabel Allende evokes the magnificent landscapes of her country; a charming, idiosyncratic Chilean people with a violent history and an indomitable spirit, and the politics, religion, myth, and magic of her homeland that she carries with her even today.

..Paula: When Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, became gravely ill and fell into a coma, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious child. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers.

Maya Angelou
..The Heart Of A Woman: Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world.

..I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: In the first volume of an extraordinary autobiographical series, one of the most inspiring authors of our time recalls--with candor, humor, poignancy and grace--how her journey began....

..Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas: Maya struggles to support herself and her son through a series of odd jobs and weathers a failed marriage to a white man before landing a gig singing in one of the most popular nightclubs on the San Francisco coast. From there, she is called to New York to join the cast of Porgy and Bess. Maya soon finds herself on a joyous and dramatic adventure, touring abroad through Italy, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Egypt with spirited cast members, and performing for large, enthusiastic audiences.

..A Song Flung Up To Heaven: Following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and the riots in Watts, Maya Angelou completely withdraws from the world. Finally, James Baldwin forces her out of isolation and insists that she accompany him to a dinner party—where the idea for writing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is born. In fact, A Song Flung Up to Heaven ends as Maya Angelou begins to write the first sentences of Caged Bird.

Margaret Atwood

..Margaret Atwood: A Biography (by Nathalie Cooke): This is the first biography of the celebrated author, poet, critic, and social activist. The Atwood who emerges in these pages is an intense and driven woman, struggling daily to balance the demands of her own artistic perfectionism with her commitment to enjoying a rich and varied private life.

Samuel Beckett
..Damned To Fame: The Life Of Samuel Beckett (by James Knowlson): Portrait of Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett, mysterious and reclusive master of twentieth-century literature. Professor James Knowlson, Beckett's chosen biographer and a leading authority on Beckett, vividly re-creates Beckett's life from his birth in a rural suburb of Dublin in 1906 to his death in Paris in 1989, revealing the real man behind the literary giant.

Augusten Burroughs
..Running With Scissors: A Memoir: The true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed.

..A Wolf At The Table: A Memoir Of My Father: When Augusten Burroughs was small, his father was a shadowy presence in his life: a form on the stairs, a cough from the basement, a silent figure smoking a cigarette in the dark. As Augusten grew older, something sinister within his father began to unfurl. Something dark and secretive that could not be named. It’s a memoir of stunning psychological cruelty and the redemptive power of hope.

Lewis Carroll
..Lewis Carroll: A Biography (by Morton N. Cohen): Under the pen name Lewis Carroll, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson became a legend for his children's books, which broke the constraints of Victorian moralism. Thirty years in the writing and drawn from a voluminous fund of letters and diaries, this exemplary biography conveys both the imaginative fancy and human complexity of the creator of Alice in Wonderland. Photos.

Allen Ginsberg
..Ginsberg: A Biography (by Barry Miles): Authoritative and immensely readable account of the life of one of the twentieth-century's most extraordinary poets. Drawing on his long friendship and literary association with Ginsberg, as well as on the poet's journals and correspondence, Barry Miles presents a compelling account of a controversial life. Miles also offers a sensitive and illuminating critical appreciation of Ginsberg's poetry, ultimately painting an exhaustive and intimate portrait of this colorful man, whose experiences reflect the developments and changes in larger society.

John Irving
..The Imaginary Girlfriend: A Memoir: A miniature autobiography detailing Irving’s parallel careers of writing and wrestling. Tales of encounters with writers (John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Kurt Vonnegut) are intertwined with those about his wrestling teammates and coaches. With humor and compassion, Irving details the few truly important lessons he learned about writing.
John Keats

..Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (by Stanley Plumly): An ode to an unsuspecting young poet — a man who, against the odds of his culture and critics, managed to achieve the unthinkable: the elevation of the lyric poem to sublime and tragic status.

Bobbie Ann Mason
..Clear Springs: A Memoir
: This dazzling memoir is the saga of three generations. Spanning decades, Clear Springs gracefully weaves together the stories of Mason's grandparents, parents, and her own generation. The narrative moves from the sober industriousness of a Kentucky farm to the lifestyle of the countercultural 1960s; from a New York fan magazine to the shock-therapy ward of a mental institution; from a county poorhouse to the set of a Hollywood movie; from a small rustic schoolhouse to glittering pop music concerts. In the process of recounting her own odyssey Mason depicts the changes that have come to family, to women, and to heartland America in the twentieth century. Clear Springs is a heartfelt portrait of an extended family, and a profound affirmation of the importance of family love.

Joyce Maynard

..At Home In The World: A Memoir: Breaking a twenty-five year silence, Joyce Maynard addresses her relationship with J.D. Salinger for the first time, as well as the complicated , troubled and yet creative nature of her youth and family. She vividly describes the details of the times and her life with the finesse of a natural storyteller.

Mary McCarthy
..Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World: Winner of the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award in biography, this sparklingly written, exhaustively researched, and richly detailed biography of America's feisty, free-thinking "first lady of letters" is an engrossing portrait of the American Left from the 1930s through the 1980s.

Joyce Carol Oates
..The Journal Of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982: Offers a rare glimpse into the private thoughts of this extraordinary writer, focusing on excerpts written during one of the most productive decades of Oates' long career. Far more than just a daily account of a writer's writing life, these intimate, unrevised pages candidly explore her friendships with other writers, including John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Susan Sontag, Gail Godwin, and Philip Roth. It presents a fascinating portrait of the artist as a young woman, fully engaged with her world and her culture, on her way to becoming one of the most respected, honored, discussed, and controversial figures in American letters.

J.D. Salinger
..Dreamcatcher: A Memoir
(by Margaret A. Salinger): Margaret Salinger writes about life with her famously reclusive father, J.D. Salinger -- offering a rare look into the man and the myth, what it is like to be his daughter, and the effect of such a charismatic figure on the girls and women closest to him.

With generosity and insight, Ms. Salinger has written a book that is eloquent, spellbinding, and wise, yet at the same time retains the intimacy of a novel. Her story chronicles an almost cult-like environment of extreme isolation and early neglect interwoven with times of laughter, joy, and dazzling beauty.

Ms. Salinger compassionately explores the complex dynamics of family relationships. Her story is one that seeks to come to terms with the dark parts of her life that, quite literally, nearly killed her, and to pass on a life-affirming heritage to her own child.

..In Search of J.D. Salinger (by Ian Hamilton): In trying to research the details of J.D. Salinger's life for this book, Ian Hamilton forced the writer out of his reclusive hideaway to challenge his discoveries in an American court of law. This text is the story of that quest, a literary detective story which ends in court with a bitter and protracted lawsuit in which Salinger sought to restrict the use Hamilton could make of his letters.

William Shakespeare
..Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (by Stephen Greenblatt): A biography that enables us to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life; full of drama and pageantry, and also cruelty and danger, could have become the world's greatest playwright. Bringing together little-known historical facts and little-noticed elements of Shakespeare's plays, Greenblatt makes inspired connections between the life and the works and delivers "a dazzling and subtle biography."

Amy Tan
..The Opposite Of Fate: A Book Of Musings: Amy Tan shares her insight into her own life and how she escaped the curses of her past to make a future of her own. She takes us on a journey from her childhood of tragedy and comedy to the present day and her arrival as one of the world’s best-loved novelists. Whether recalling arguments with her mother in suburban California or introducing us to the ghosts that inhabit her computer, The Opposite of Fate offers vivid portraits of choices, attitudes, charms, and luck in action.

Comic and tragic, serious and scandalous, present and past... this is just a sample of the literary biographies at the Copper Queen Library. If any of these titles pique your interest, come browse our Biography Section and check out the Circulation Desk display for wonderful words about writers of all genres and eras.