Elsbeth Etty

We are now living in an age in which we can state that the ‘fragmented’ biography is starting to disappear. The same goes for the taboo on intimate facts such as life, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, and the psychological interpretation of the subject. At the same time, and most likely because of this shift, there is a demand for a thorough foundation of both facts and interpretations. In the past, revelations about the subject’s war history were used to intrigue and create interest in the biography. There is nothing wrong with that. However, precisely these sorts of painful revelations should be based on thorough research, contextualized psychologically and sociologically, and provided with a verifiable foundation.
The Biography in the Netherlands, in the twentieth century, comprises a few important themes, such as World War II and pillarization, two phenomena in which factuality is most important. Biographers who blindly cite ‘facts’ from literary works and pretend they are the truth, undermine the genre.
The fact that publishers, critics, and historians accept unverifiable ‘facts’ and do not hold the author responsible, is a dangerous development.


Elsbeth Etty is a Dutch biographer, literary critic, columnist for De Groene Amsterdammer, and chair of the Multatuli Genootschap. From 1987 to 2017, she worked as an editor for NRC Handelsblad. She studied Dutch language at the VU University Amsterdam. For her biography Liefde is heel het leven niet – Henriette Roland Holst 1869-1952, she obtained her doctoral degree cum laude in Utrecht. For this book, she was awarded the Gouden Uil, the Busken Huet Prijs, and she was nominated for the AKO-literatuurprijs. In 2008, her columns earned her the Anne Vondeling Prijs for political journalism. From 2005 to 2015, she was endowed professor at the VU University Amsterdam. She is currently in the process of finishing a biography of the Dutch poet and songwriter Willem Wilmink.

María Jesús González

Biography in Spain has faced challenges, many of them extraneous to the genre. Flourishing under European influence during the 1930s, it was abruptly halted by the Civil War. A lengthy dictatorship saw it hijacked to serve the heroic and hagiographic ethos of National-Catholicism. Democracy, when it arrived, demanded collective protagonist and history from below and held biography in contempt. Nationalist projects, particularly in Catalonia, saw in it a tool for the (re)construction of cultural identity and cohesion. Since the mid-1990s biography has gradually become historiographically relevant, as witness improvements in the quality and number of publications, the range of subjects and perspectives treated, and studies on its methodology and theory. Prizes, seminars, symposia and postgraduate courses on biography bespeak its growing presence in the cultural-academic world. Fresh contributions and the re-examination of controversial characters have nurtured academic debate. But the intelligibility of biography has also begun to attract both the general reader and the interest of publishers.


María is a Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Cantabria, Spain and Senior Research Fellow at the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies (LSE, London). An expert in the political history of the reign of Alfonso XIII, she is author of Ciudadanía y Acción: El conservadurismo maurista 1907–1923 (1990) and the political biography of the conservative statesman Antonio Maura: El universo conservador de Antonio Maura: Biografía y proyecto de Estado (1997), shortlisted for the Spanish National Essay Prize, 1998. She has also written the intellectual biography of Raymond Carr, the British hispanist: Raymond Carr. La curiosidad del zorro. Una biografía, (2010), shortlisted for the Spanish National Prize of History 2011. Translated into English as  Raymond Carr. The curiosity of the fox, (2013), longlisted for the  Elizabeth Longford Prize of Historical Biography, 2014. Among other chapters or articles on biographies of politicians or intellectuals, she has recently co-edited a book about a Spanish historian: Gonzalez, M.J., Ugarte, J., Juan Pablo Fusi. El historiador y su tiempo (2016). She now co-directs with prof. Anna Caballe an international research project on Biography:  Biographical Reason: Biography and Autobiographical narratives in the historical and literary research of XXth century Europe. Case studies and theoretical reflections. (HAR2017-82500-P, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitivity).

Yannick Gouchan


This lecture intends to give an historical survey of the practice of biography in contemporary Italy. From the particular relationship between the biography and the nation building process – in other words “to make the Italians”, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century – to the different forms of telling lives in nowadays’ Italy. Yannick will also examine the different outlook of some great intellectuals and historians on biography (such as Benedetto Croce, Arnaldo Momigliano, Carlo Ginzburg and Giovanni Levi), and discuss the importance of the publishing firms and some editorial collections for the practice of biography, in order to understand several specific issues such as: national lives versus local ones; the selection of historical characters; the importance of the micro-history; the thriving boom of the biography in the 70s and 80s; the studies and current research on biography.


Yannick Gouchan is a Professor of Italian Literature and Culture at Aix Marseille Université (France). He teaches at the Italian Studies Department and has been a researcher at the CAER (Center of Research in Romance Studies) since 2004. He is a member of the editorial board of the French review Italies and the Italian publishing house Stilo Editrice. His scholarship mainly concerns contemporary Italian literature, in particular poetry. He published many articles and essays on Giovanni Pascoli, Attilio Bertolucci, Vittorio Sereni, as well as Paolo Maccari, Salvatore Quasimodo and World War I Italian literature.

His last published works are about childhood in Italian poetry between the late 19th and early 20th centuries (La figura del fanciullo nell’opera di D’Annunzio, di Pascoli e dei Crepuscolari, Cisalpino, 2016, and Enfances italiennes, “Italiesˮ, n. 21, PUP, 2017). As a member of the board of the Biography Society, he contributes with studies on the relationship between Poetry and Biography (Giovanni Pascoli à l’épreuve de la biographie, 2016 ; Études biographiques. La biographie au carrefour des Humanités and Biography and Verity, both directed with Joanny Moulin and Phuong Ngoc Nguyen, to be published by Champion in 2018 and 2019), and the Biography in the graphic novel (La vie graphique d’Elizabeth Siddal, 2018).

Nigel Hamilton


We live in perplexing times. Our traditional concept of truth, which survived the assaults of poststructuralism, deconstruction and postmodernism with amazing resilience, is currently under serious threat, in the West and in the East. What is going on? Can we meet this menace? Is the notion of truth doomed – no longer under attack by well-meaning French philosophers and linguists but by callous individuals with personal, political and financial agendas, from Putin to the Koch brothers, in which no lie is too outrageous or tacky to be pursued?

In “Truth, Lies and Fake Truth” Nigel Hamilton – author of multi-volume biographies of Field Marshal Montgomery, Bill Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt, seeks to unravel what is taking place, how it affects biographers, and what are the three moral imperatives of serious biography in the modern world, across all borders.


Dr. Nigel Hamilton is Senior Fellow, John W. McCormack Graduate School of Politics and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts. He is author of some 27 works of biography, history, memoir and education. His 3-volume life of Field Marshal Montgomery of Alamein won the Whitbread Award for Biography and the Templer Medal for Military History. His JFK: Reckless Youth was a New York Times bestseller, and made into a television mini-series. As Visiting Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Royal Holloway, University of London, he taught history and biography for many years, and was Professor of Biography at De Montfort University, Leicester. He founded the British Institute of Biography in 1995, and has published two works on the genre: Biography: A Brief History, and How to Do Biography: A Primer (both Harvard University Press). The first volume of his current “FDR at War” trilogy was Longlisted for the National Book Award in 2014. His concluding volume, Final Odyssey: FDR’s Battles From D-Day to Yalta, 1943-1945, will be published in 2019. He is currently co-authoring The ABC of Modern Biography with Professor Hans Renders, Director of the Biography Institute, Groningen University (Amsterdam University Press, 2018).

Wilhelm Hemecker

WilhelmWelcomeAustrian university reforms after the revolutionary years 1848/49 institutionalised the disciplines Germanic Studies, Historiography, and Musicology, leading to a blossoming in academic biographies. This talk outlines the main strands of development and discusses them in the context of political disruptions and upheavals. In particular, biographies by academic historians were exclusively focused on Austrian politicians and aristocrats, due to a special focus on primary source materials in the university curriculums. This resulted in such gargantuan projects as Alfred Arnett’s ten volume biography of Maria Theresa (1863-1879).
Further, the talk will present a more broad view on biographies, as produced at 19th and early 20th century German departments. Biographical traditions partly supported the Great German ideology, partly opposed it, and established a specific Austrian tradition.
Finally, the talk expands on popular biographies of high literary quality, in particular those by Stefan Zweig with his mundane global approach.


Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography. University Professor, Department of European and Comparative Literature and Language Studies, University of Vienna. Houghton Research Fellow, Harvard University (Spring 2015); Visiting Professor, UCLA (Spring 2009); Rockefeller Resident Fellow (Spring 2008); By-Fellow, Churchill College, University of Cambridge (Spring 2007). Founding member of the International Auto/Biography Association (IABA) Europe.
Research Interests: History and theory of biography, literature of the late 18th – 21st centuries, Viennese Modernism (interdisciplinary), history of psychoanalysis, interrelationships between literature and philosophy, memorial culture, information and writing systems, archives.
Curator of literary exhibitions on Mechtilde Lichnowsky (Schiller National Museum, Marbach), R. M. Rilke (Austrian State Archives), and the literary circle ‘Jung Wien’ (Ensemble of 11 exhibitions in Vienna and Salzburg), amongst others.
Monographs on Freud, Rilke and Mechtilde Lichnowsky. Editor of Die Biographie. Beiträge zu ihrer Geschichte. Berlin/New York 2009. Co-Editor of Biography in Theory. Key Texts with Commentaries, Berlin/Boston 2017.

Richard Holmes

holmesI have been writing and teaching biography for over fifty years, so I come before you as an old-timer (or ancient mariner), whose hand may be shaking in more senses than one.  In my time  I have seen remarkable changes come over the form, not least its invasion by autobiography, the memoir, the selfie and the internet. In response I would like to look at my own changing research and teaching methods, and my emerging idea of “the handshake” across different generations, cultures, disciplines, and genders. To do this I will  glance back at the British national tradition of  liberal biography that has inspired me, and explore the key but deeply problematic notions of empathy and advocacy which all biographers everywhere have to confront. I will risk by ending with my notorious  “Ten Commandments for Biographers”.


Richard Holmes was the first Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia, 2001-7. He  is a Fellow of the British Academy, and an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. He is the author of Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer, and  biographies of Shelley, Coleridge and young Dr Johnson. His study of scientists and poets  The Age of Wonder won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books (UK) and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction (USA). He has also written about the early balloonists in Falling Upwards, which was one of Time magazine’s Top Ten Non-Fiction Books of 2013. His most recent book is This Long Pursuit, a study of his biographical methods and teaching. In 2018 he won the international BIO Award (USA) for sustained achievement in Biography.

Lindie Koorts


South African biography, like its historiography, is dominated by the country’s divided past. While the system of apartheid was in place for 46 years, the country has a much longer history of racial discrimination, dispossession and inequality. The advent of democracy in 1994 brought with it an insatiable appetite for stories about the struggle against apartheid. These dominate the South African non-fiction market, which in turn outsells local fiction. While the plethora of struggle biographies fed into a somewhat uncomplicated meta-narrative, in recent years, we have witnessed a new turn. The so-called “decolonisation” movement has led to a society at war with the lingering symbols of its colonial past. Erstwhile heroes are being reappraised, while there are renewed tensions between the veneration for prominent individuals and the role of the “collective”. It is in this fraught landscape that South African biographers continue to study past individuals in their own right.


Lindie Koorts is a South African biographer, historian and columnist. She obtained her DPhil in History at the University of Stellenbosch, and is currently a senior lecturer at the International Studies Group, University of the Free State. She holds a Newton Advanced Fellowship from the British Academy for her ongoing biographical research of Paul Kruger, the president of the Transvaal at the time of the South African War. Her biography of D.F. Malan, the man who instituted the policy of apartheid, was the first comprehensive biography of an apartheid leader to have been published after the country’s turn to democracy in 1994. The book won and was shortlisted for several non-fiction awards, including the Sunday Times Alan Paton shortlist, and the KykNET-Rapport shortlist for non-fiction.

Daniel Meister

Canada is a particularly fruitful country through which to study the way the writing of biography is affected by national context and how biography can contribute to a better understanding of difference. Difference, while not a new concept, has taken on heightened importance in recent decades as societies and their leaders struggle with the realities of increasing global migration. Born in Canada, a policy of multiculturalism was originally believed to be the solution to the larger “problem of diversity” and, despite some criticism, it has come to form an integral part of the country’s national identity. This paper assesses the state of historical biography and explores the role of biography in this multicultural context, focusing particularly on the themes of cultural perspective, difference, and understanding.


Daniel R. Meister is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the Department of History at Queen’s University whose research interests include modern Canadian history, environmental history, historical biography, and historiography. His recent article, “The Biographical Turn and the Case for Historical Biography,” argues for the discipline of history to fully accept biography as a subfield. His dissertation, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, explores the idea of race in the history of Canadian multiculturalism by examining a number of public intellectuals who were in some ways early proponents of tolerance during the interwar period. By taking a biographical approach, which allows for a sustained look at each figure’s life and thought, the study reveals that their understanding of diversity was shaped by the ideas of race and whiteness, and suggests there are parallels between their thinking and the later official policy of multiculturalism.

Joanny Moulin

Joanny Moulin will present the state of the art of biography in France today, and since the beginning of the 21st century. The French situation has this particularity that there is no equivalent of ‘life-writing’ properly speaking as an academic discipline; ‘récits de vie’ is a different concept, circumscribed to the social sciences, and seen as already passé. Studies centred on autobiography, following in the steps of Philippe Lejeune, have had considerable importance. But biography as a specific literary genre has received as yet little critical attention, although it has gathered great importance over recent decades, in terms of readership and publishing, but also, even more remarkably, as a literary institution, with the foundation of more prizes and awards. Biography in France today is a ‘serious’ literary genre, exerting a strong influence over contemporary fiction, and triggering innovative research in the humanities, because it poses fruitful challenges to the current reflection at the crossroads of several adjacent fields of knowledge.


Joanny Moulin, Senior Member of Institut Universitaire de France, Professor of English literature at Aix-Marseille Université, President of the Biography Society, is currently involved in a research project entitled ‘Biography, Critique of a Literary Genre’, aiming at producing a theory of biography based on the critical study of a corpus of major contemporary biographers in the UK, the US and France. His most recent publications are ‘Lives of the Poets: Poetry & Biography’ in Études anglaises, ‘Towards Biography Theory’, in Cercles, and, in collaboration with Hans Renders, ‘Great Biographers’ in The Great Historical Figures in Art and Literature. In 2007, he published a biography of Ted Hughes, being the first of a series of five biographies: of Charles Darwin, Queen Elisabeth I and II and Seamus Heaney. He was one of the founding members of the Biography Society in 2015. As president of this society, his objective is twofold: on the one hand, to make a significant contribution to the theory of biography by individual and collective research, and, on the other hand, to foster the development of biography studies as a new domain of teaching and research in the perimeter of French anglistics.

Doug Munro

New Zealand has a rich tradition of biographical writing for such a small country. The genre extends across the spectrum, including biographies of politicians, soldiers and figures from the colonial period. For a sports-mad country, there is an unsurprising surfeit of biographies about sporting identities. Conversely, for a country with a reputation of being indifferent at best to artistic endeavour, there are a surprising number on the representative of “high culture” – writers, poets, artists, and musicians.
At the same time, the tradition of scholarly biography in New Zealand is shallow – beginning with the expansion of the universities in the 1960s – and the increase of biographies written by academics has had a generally beneficial effect on the genre, as I will argue. I will also look at publishers’ perception of the marketplace as a factor in determining which subjects get biographies, as well as discussing how biographers, and writers generally, make a living in a country with relatively few support structures.


Doug Munro is a New Zealand-based biographer and historian and an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland, Australia. He started as an historian of the Pacific Islands with a PhD from Macquarie University in Sydney, and much of his working life was spent at the University of the South Pacific. It was there that he made a transition into writing biographical studies of Pacific historians and he then branched into biography generally with studies of James Herriot and Sonia Orwell. Between 2005 and 2012, Doug was the researcher for a major project on suicide in twentieth century New Zealand, co-ordinated by John C. Weaver of McMaster University in Canada. His interests now focus on academic controversies and biographical studies of historians generally (including G.R. Elton and George Rudé). In 2014 he co-edited (with Geoffrey Gray and Christine Winter) a special issue of the Journal of Historical Biography on the theme ‘Telling Academic Lives’: https://www.ufv.ca/jhb/Volume_16/Volume_16_TOC.pdf.  Doug’s major publication is The Ivory Tower and Beyond: Participant Historians of the Pacific (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009). His most recent book (co-edited with John G. Reid) is Clio’s Lives: Biographies and Autobiographies of Historians (Canberra: ANU Press, 2017): https://press.anu.edu.au/node/3854/download.

Étienne Naveau

Indonesian biographies focus both on individual and collective identities, showing us a close relationship between the picture of the Individuals and the picture of the nation. Biographies of political figures (Sukarno, Soeharto, Tan Malaka), eminent artists (writers, singers, dancers, painters), religious figures and entrepreneurs deal with the whole nation. In considering Indonesian biographies, we must take account of the list of national heroes which aroused sets of official or popular biographies, sometimes intended for young readers. These works are often hagiographies. They take part in the national building, representing the Indonesian diversity (ethnic, religious) whom they are trying to defend.

We shall consider the biographies of 3 founding figures: Amir Hamzah, the first great poet of the Indonesian Modernity, considered a as link with the classical Malay tradition, Kartini, the pioneer of Indonesian feminism and Sukarno, the first President of the Republic. Sukarno proclaimed the Independence and conceived the political system, the Pancasila, that made possible to build the Indonesian nation, trying to reconcile the claims of Muslim and secular figures. Looking at change in picturing these three personalities should help us to better understand the relationship between the perceptions of these Individuals and the building of the Indonesian nation itself.


Holder of an “agrégation” and a PHD in philosophy, Étienne Naveau received too a doctorate in Indonesian language, literature and civilization from the Inalco (the National Institute for Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations). The subject of his doctorate is Indonesian autobiographical texts. Since 2003, Étienne Naveau has been lecturer in Indonesian language and literature at Inalco and a member of Cerlom (Center for Studies and Research on World Literatures and Orality). In November 2017, he attended his HDR with the title “Indonesian Identities and Foundational Discourses (Literature, Philosophy, Religions)”.

Étienne Naveau teaches translation, history of Modern Indonesian literature and analysis of Indonesian religious and political discourses. He is also a translator of Indonesian literature. He translated an anthology of Indonesian sonnets (Paris, Pasar Malam, 2015), a bilingual anthology of poems by Taufiq Ismail (Jakarta, Horison, 2015), a bilingual booklet of Sufi poetry by Acep Zamzam Noor (Paris, Presses de la Sorbonne new, 2016), as well as two novels by Eka Kurniawan (Paris, Folio and Sabine Wespieser, 2017).

Jade Nguyen

jadeBiography has a long tradition in Vietnam. The Chinese scholar Sima Qian (145 BCE – 86 BCE) wrote his Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) consisting of biographies of kings and famous personalities. This model was adopted by Vietnamese biographers since the Chinese domination from 111 BCE to 938 CE. Biography, in the Confucian mind, has to be a ‘mirror’ for the present and future generations; a biography is a story of a person, but we have to tell it as a moral lesson that is useful for all of us.
A more critical tradition in Vietnamese biography began when Vietnamese intellectuals reading French biographies discovered different ways of telling a life. Biography became a way of understanding another human being, not a lesson. But still, you can’t find any biography of Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam comparable to those written by the French historians Lacouture or Brocheux.


Phuong Ngoc (Jade) Nguyen is an associate professor in Vietnamese language and civilization at Aix-Marseille University (AMU) and a member of the Institute for Asian Reseach (AMU-CNRS). After her thesis, At the Beginning of Anthropology in Vietnam (2004), she continued her reseach on Vietnamese intellectuals and writers, particularly on introducing ideas of science and arts in the colonial Vietnam during the first half of twentieth century. In her recent works, she focuses on the emergence and the developement of the modern Vietnamese literature written in quốc ngữ (a writing system using the Latin script). Some publications: A l’origine de l’anthropologie au Vietnam, Aix-en-Provence, PUP, 2012; Tản Đà et Rousseau. Réception par des lettrés de formation classique dans le Việt Nam colonial, Rousseau studies, Genève, Ed. Stalkine, n°3, 2015; L’intellectuel comme intermédiaire colonial. Le cas de la Société d’Enseignement Mutuel du Tonkin (1892-1946), in Dominique Barjot et Jean-François Klein (eds.), De l’Indochine coloniale au Viet-Nam actuel, Magellan & Cie, 2017, p. 221-237.

Evgeniya Petrova

The research team of the National Research University “Higher School of Economics” studied the biographies of professionals who worked in the media in 2016 and 2017. The analyses of the
empirical base, which consisted of more than 200 biographical texts, made it possible to draw conclusions on not only the specifics of a career in the media, but also the main tendencies of the media sphere in Russia. In our opinion, the study of the most important processes and phenomena in the context of human biographies is a perspective and productive approach.
In recent years, biographical research has become widely accepted in Russia. Nowadays the most popular approach in the system of biographical studies is the sociological point of view. But we think that biographical studies have a high potential in different fields of studying. The micro level point of view is really new for the Russian research tradition. There are a lot of questions concerning the methodological base of the biographical studies.


Evgeniya Petrova is the associate professor at the Faculty of the Communication Media and Design National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. Her way to biographical research went through several stages. In 2010 Evgeniya earned her PhD with her dissertation, which focused on the history of the Russian press. In the study, she used biographical materials from different periods of the history as the important resource of data. In 2012-2016, Evgeniya took part in anthropological project, including expeditions in several Russian regions (such as Moscow, Siberia, and the south of Russia). This experience helped her to pay more attention to the individuals, to their past and present days. Biographical studies have become a continuation of this research trajectory.

Hans Renders



Hans is the director of the Biography Institute and holds a chair in History and Theory of Biography; vice president of the Biography Society; editor-in-chief of the book series Biography Studies (Brill); editor at ZL. Literary-historical magazine; book critic for Het Parool; he provides a monthly column on biography with his ‘Leven in Letters’, which can be heard every third Sunday of the month on the radio program Met het Oog op Morgen; he is member of the Board of Stichting Het Biografisch Portaal van Nederland; member of the Board Biographer’s International Organization (BIO); member of the board De Nederlandse Biografieprijs; member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography (Vienna); member of the Best Biography Awards committee for BIO Best Biography of the Year (Plutarch Award 2018).

Hans publishes on theory and biography, e.g. Theoretical Approaches to Biography (with Binne de Haan, Brill, Boston/Leiden 2014) and The Biographical Turn, Lives in History (with Binne de Haan and Jonne Harmsma, Routledge, London/New York 2017); he published two full-length biographies (Jan Hanlo, 1998), Jan Campert (2004) and is now working on the biography of Theo van Doesburg (in collaboration with Sjoerd van Faassen).

Carl Rollyson

It has been almost twenty years since Edmund Morris outraged reviewers of presidential biography with his effort to subvert the stodgy genre by inventing a narrator and events that seemed to him the only way to get at his elusive subject.  Where to look for precedents in Morris’s bold and controversial authorized biography, when the very term, authorized, exalts the old reliable and, so Morris thought, boring narratives when what he wanted to do was be a boffo Boswell.  Are there authorized biographers who have gone rogue—and in effect, joined the ranks of the unauthorized, or perhaps we should say, deauthorized? Since 2003, I have reviewed dozens of presidential biographies, and it is time to look at what they have wrought. Is there a way to reverse the rope tied around presidential biography, so that biographers can jump in two different directions at once?


Carl Rollyson, Professor Emeritus of Journalism, at Baruch College, CUNY, has published twelve biographies: A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan, A Private Life of Michael Foot,  To  Be A Woman: The Life of Jill Craigie, Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography, American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Lillian Hellman: Her Life and Legend, Beautiful Exile: The Life of Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer: The Last Romantic, Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl, Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, and three studies of biography, A Higher Form of Cannibalism? Adventures in the Art and Politics of Biography, Biography: A User’s Guide and Confessions of a Serial Biographer. His reviews of biography appear in Reading Biography, American Biography, Lives of the Novelists, Essays in Biography in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The New Criterion and other newspapers and periodicals.  He has published four biographies for young adults on Pablo Picasso, Marie Curie, Emily Dickinson, and Thurgood Marshall. He is working on This Alarming Paradox: The Life of William Faulkner forthcoming from University of Virginia Press and The Last Days of Sylvia Plath forthcoming from University Press of Mississippi.

Sahar Vahdati Hosseinian


Sahar argues that the “forbidden issues” of biographies can not only be used to explain the differences between various societies in the realms of culture, policy, religion and social life, but that they are also a suitable benchmark for investigating the process of created alterations in a society during different historical time periods.
Opposing views on controversial topics can be discussed freely in certain societies, but not in all of them. The forbidden issues, or the do’s and don’ts, can be imposed on societies either compulsorily or conventionally. Biographies are a suitable place for the manifestation of these controversies in various societies.
This lecture briefly investigates the governing cultural, religious and social topics in Iran from the Constitutional Revolution to the Islamic Revolution. Furthermore, it will specifically focus on the role and impact of censorship in the writing of biography in Iran.


Sahar has a BA in Mining Engineering (minors: extraction) from Sahand University of Technology (Iran) and an MA in Iranian languages (minors: Old Indo-Iranian languages) from Public University of Tabriz (Iran). She was selected as brilliant talent of Tabriz University from 2016 to 2018. She started her research on biography at the age of 16, focusing on Iranian cultural eminent persons. She published a book and several articles on internal and external publications; gave presentations in international symposiums held in Turkey and Tajikistan; cooperated as a researcher in Tajikistan oral history; and prepared and executed programs introducing some of Iranian prominent personalities for Radio Tehran.
Her works focus on the influence of eminent persons in cultural mutual relations between Iran and other countries (specifically Iran’s neighbors). Her research shows how Iranian notables had and have deep influences on the various cultural aspects of Turkey and Tajikistan. Sahar is very interested in the cultural and linguistic issues of biography. As an independent researcher, she tries to investigate the role of languages and translation in biography and the role of culture in the ruling policy of contemporary politicians.