Biographers International Organization

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Biographers International Organization
The logo for Biographers International Organization.png
The BIO logo
Formation 2010
Type 501(c)6 organization
Purpose BIO promotes the art and craft of biography, and furthers the professional interests of its practitioners.
Headquarters Santa Fe, NM
Region served
Approx. 400 members
James McGrath Morris
Will Swift

Biographers International Organization (BIO) is an international, non-profit, 501 (c)(6) organization founded to promote the art and craft of biography, and to further the professional interests of its practitioners. The organization was founded in 2010 by a committee of noted biographers, led by James McGrath Morris, who served as BIO's first Executive Director. The president of BIO as of 2016 is Will Swift.

Each year, the organization presents its highest award, the BIO Award, to an individual who has made notable contributions to advancing the art and craft of biography.[1] BIO members also vote annually on the Plutarch Award, the only international literary prize dedicated solely to biography.


BIO informs, supports, promotes, defends and advocates for its members.[2]

BIO activities include informing biographers on the craft of biography, by providing guidance on matters related to the researching, writing, and publishing of biography;[3] helping them deal effectively with resources, subjects, technology, agents. editors, and publishers; encouraging public interest in and appreciation for biography; and conducting conferences, public discussion groups, and mentoring.[4]


BIO was granted its corporate charter on May 26, 2010. It is designated as a 501 (c) 6.

BIO grew from the vision of biographer James McGrath Morris, creator and editor of The Biographer's Craft newsletter. In July 2008, Morris wrote an open letter to biographers,[5] from which a grass-roots organization of practicing and apprentice biographers began to emerge. On March 26, 2009, the first formal organizing meeting took place at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY, and a temporary 15-member founding committee was formed to function as an Interim Board of Directors.

In February 2010, the Interim Board announced the formation of an Advisory Council composed of leading and noted biographers and agents including Deirdre Bair, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Caro, Joan Hedrick, Justin Kaplan, Eric Lax, David Levering Lewis, Andrew Lownie, John Matteson, William S. McFeely, Jon Meacham, Marion Meade, Nancy Milford, Susan Ronald, Stacy Schiff, Martin J. Sherwin, Kenneth Silverman, William Taubman, and Terry Teachout.

BIO convened its first conference in May 2010, at the University of Massachusetts Boston.


Each year, BIO presents several awards to honor biographers, editors, librarians and archivists, and their work.

  • BIO Award: Since 2010, the BIO Award has been presented to an individual who has "made a significant contribution to the art and craft of biography."
  • Biblio Award: Created in 2012, the Biblio Award is presented to an outstanding librarian or archivist. Awardees are selected by the BIO Board of Directors, from nominations submitted by BIO members.
  • Editorial Excellence: Beginning in 2014, the BIO Award for Editorial Excellence has been presented to an outstanding editor of biography.
  • Hazel Rowley Prize: Starting in 2014, the Rowley Prize is awarded biennially for the best proposal by a first-time biographer. Winners receive a cash prize and the winning proposal is submitted for consideration by an established literary agent.
  • Plutarch Award: Since 2013, the Plutarch Award has been selected by vote and presented for the best biography of the year. The Plutarch is named for the Greek historian, credited as the father of biography.
BIO Award
Editorial Excellence
2010 Jean Strouse
2011 Robert Caro
2012 Arnold Rampersad Edward Comstock, University of Southern California
2013 Ron Chernow David Smith, New York Public Library Robert Caro, The Passage of Power
2014 Stacy Schiff Wallace Dailey and Heather Cole, Curators, Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard University Linda Leavell, Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore Robert Gottlieb
2015 Taylor Branch Thomas Mann, Library of Congress Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life Jonathan Segal
2016 Claire Tomalin Dave Grabarek, Library of Virginia Rosemary Sullivan, Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva Nan A. Talese


The Biographer's Craft is a monthly online newsletter that active BIO members receive as part of their membership. TBC features original, non-fiction articles of general interest to biographers, writers, and readers of biography. Regular features include interviews with notable biographers, and a listing of biographies sold to publishers, as well as biographies published each month.

The current editor of The Biographer's Craft is Michael Burgan.


At the first conference in Boston on May 15, 2010,[6] Nigel Hamilton was chosen to assume the presidency, succeeding Debby Applegate, who had served as interim president. Charles J. Shields was elected vice president, and eleven others were selected to serve one- to two-year terms on the board. In its first actions, the board selected James McGrath Morris to serve as executive director.

Since 2010, BIO's president and vice president have been elected biennially by BIO members. Its Board of Directors are broken into two groups, each of which are also elected biennially. The current Board is composed of 19 members, including the president and vice president.

Vice President
2009 Debby Applegate (interim) None
2010-2012 Nigel Hamilton Charles J. Shields
2012-2014 James McGrath Morris Brian Jay Jones
2014-2016 Brian Jay Jones Cathy Curtis
2016-2018 Will Swift Deirdre David


BIO offers varying levels of membership, depending on a member's professional status. BIO is open to professional, amateur, and aspiring biographers and documentarians around the world, and also permits membership for readers of biography, students and corporations.[7]

Dues range from $30 annually for students, to $250 annually for corporations.

Notable Members[edit]

  • Debby Applegate (2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher)
  • Robert Caro (1975 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for The Power Broker; 2002 National Book Award, 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson)
  • Nigel Hamilton (Whitbread Award for Biography, Templar Medal for Military History for Monty, official three-volume biography of Field Marshal Montgomery)
  • Justin Kaplan (1967 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, National Book Award for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain; 1981 National Book Award for Walt Whitman)
  • Stacy Schiff (2000 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, for Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)
  • T. J. Stiles (2009 National Book Award and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Biography The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt; 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History for Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America)
  • Jean Strouse (Bancroft Prize for Alice James: A Biography)