Biographers write about the lives of real people.
Real life can get very interesting, and some people have lived lives that beg to be turned into books with little to no embellishment. Biographers are tasked with compiling comprehensive, factual accounts of a specific person's life from start to finish. Using a narrative voice to frame events and documented occurrences, a biographer conveys key moments that shaped the subject in ways that unfold over the course of the work. Choosing an appropriate subject for a biography is important; most biographies deal with well-known historical figures or ordinary people who lived through certain interesting events and are representative of a particular time or lifestyle. Historical research often reveals mentions of fascinating people that a biographer decides to investigate further. Biographical writing can take many forms. Obituaries are an example of small-scale biographical writing that often strip a person's life down to the essentials. Articles about public figures may involve biographical research and interviews. Some people take matters into their own hands and write autobiographies about their own lives!
Some biographers are connected in some way to their subjects; a budding genealogist may write a book detailing the exploits of their own great-great-grandmother based on her collected journals, or the longtime confidante of a former politician may write from their own records and correspondences. Ultimately, the role of a biographer is to know more about a specific person than anyone else possibly could, which often entails finding primary sources that no one else has done anything with. Letters, diaries, phone calls, recorded interviews, e-mails, press releases, photographs, and more can all serve as valuable records of a subject's personal history.
Work as a biographer may include...
- Researching a subject's family history and life events
- Writing comprehensive factual accounts of life events
- Accessing historical archives in search of reference material
- Conducting interviews with relatives, experts, or the subject
- Fact checking and investigating the truth of statements
Biographers tend to be hired on a project basis to do work on specific individuals. Sometimes, the estate of a recently deceased person will hire a biographer to document their life, or a public figure will commission a biography of their life up to the present. In academic settings, biographers may receive fellowships or research funding in support of their work. In the publishing world, biographies may be selected for book deals based on market interest and individual merit. Biographers may also be hired to do research or writing for documentary films; these kinds of relationships can expand interest in a biography's subject and lead to more opportunities.
Most biographers hold a Bachelor's degree or higher, often in a discipline like literature, history, or investigative journalism. They may also focus their undergraduate studies on the field their figure was prominent in and later pivot to writing about their life and work. The structure of graduate school can be uniquely beneficial for those aspiring to careers in biography. Master's and PhD programs can provide aspiring biographers with rare opportunities for independent research and offer them mentorship in the course of their work. Though formal education is by no means essential to finding success as a biographer, students may find it easier to develop strong writing, interview technique, and research experience with academic guidance.
If you're investigative by nature and want to devote your work to writing truthfully about interesting people, you might be a career biographer in the making.
The Biography Society is an international and interdisciplinary scholarly society devoted to the development and valorization of the theory and practice of biography.
Biographers International Organization aims to promote the art and craft of biography, cultivate a diverse community of biographers, encourage public interest in biography, and provide educational and fellowship opportunities that support the work of biographers worldwide.
IABA World is an interdisciplinary international group that allows researchers and cultural producers in the field of biography, autobiography, and life writing to share their work.