I attended the Washington Independent Review of Books' Books Alive conference yesterday. The conference is set up as part educational panels/part talking to agents, so there's a lot of going in and out of the sessions. Nonetheless, some miscellaneous pieces that I picked up, applicable to my work with Julia Wilbur and other nonfiction projects.
Gender in Biography
Panelists: Linda Lear, Kitty Kelly, James McGrath Morris, moderated by Marc Pachter.
Can a woman write about a man, and vice versa? Yes....if the writer can develop empathy for the subject and be able to make the effort to understand the gender-related issues the subject dealt with.
Other gender-related issues came up--related to sources (women's letters and other writings traditionally not saved, especially the non-famous), reception by editors and publishing houses, and critics.
Panelists: David Rowell, Maud Casey, Eugenia Kim, moderated by Tim Wendel
This session related to a sense of place in writing fiction. But the same attention to sensory details applies to nonfiction. Newspapers, other people's writings, photographs, novels written at the time--all these can help, since, unlike in fiction, we cannot "make things up."
Panelists: Michael Isikoff, Tom Dunkel, moderated by Chuck Babcock
"Throw out a lot of seeds of corn to see what will grow."