Adventures in Writing Biographies

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Adventures in Writing Biographies

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Feb 23, 2008, 10:35am

I would like to highly recommend Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subjectby Meryle Secrest. This author has produced no less than nine biographies (e.g., Salvador Dali, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bernard Berenson, Stephen Sondheim). In this book she lets readers in on her adventures (and especially her misadventures which were many) in researching the lives of her subjects.

Living subjects and families of recently deceased subjects are quite understandably uneasy in their encounters with an outsider who is in pursuit of the truth about a life. Often it is the whole truth that subjects or their families don't want the world to know. This creates tensions in the best of circumstances and downright battles or even lawsuits in the worst cases.

Secrest is an engaging, self-deprecating, and often comical writer who tells this story (which includes a part of her own story) very well. As a biographer who had his own troubles, as well as warm encounters, with a subject's family, I especially appreciated this book. However, I believe it would also be of interest to anyone who loves to read about the lives of others.

Feb 23, 2008, 10:58am

Hi dwsact, I read Shoot the Widow last year after it had been recommended to me by Carl Rollyson, a friend of Secrest, and have since read her bio of Frank Lloyd Wright as well. Both were excellent, but Shoot the Widow is truly a unique piece of work.

Feb 24, 2008, 9:51pm

Thanks for the recommendation. It must be interesting to see how a biographer actually goes about the researching and writing of a book on another person.