Happy 30th, Washington Biography Group

This very looseknit but very productive group celebrated its 30 year anniversary at the National Press Club on December 10, 2016. 

Marc Pachter (pictured) and Judy Nelson (who passed away a few years ago) launched the group after a Smithsonian symposium on "Biography: Life as Art." Given this happened in the mid-1980s, those interested in a follow-up sent Marc a postcard.

I started attending about three years ago. Each meeting begins with the chair saying the group is for people who write, read, or are the subject of a biography, although most, in fact, are at different stages of writing a biography. Pat McNees, now the group's scribe, further explains the history on her website.

So yesterday's event--Beside the sparkling wine, macaroons, and other tidbits, a table displayed a very small number of the books that members have written over the years. Subjects ranged from revolutionaries (Che Guevara) to poets (Denise Levertov) to politicians (Millicent Fenwick). 

Marc asked each person to share an inspiration about biography-writing. We heard the aspirational (our role giving voice to people), the practical (pick a subject whose book can sell in a gift shop), the provocative (write about someone dead, not alive), the realistic (you can't include every detail), and the cosmic (twists and turns happen for a reason).

"Keeping someone alive across time"--that's the biographer's charge, Marc summed up. To do that, we should look for the human details, the juice of life. In that way, biographers have something in common with gossips.


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