The Impossible Craft: Literary Biography

Hardcover | March 3, 2015

byScott Donaldson

not yet rated|write a review

In The Impossible Craft, Scott Donaldson explores the rocky territory of literary biography, the most difficult that biographers try to navigate. Writers are accustomed to controlling the narrative, and notoriously opposed to allowing intruders on their turf. They make bonfires of their papers, encourage others to destroy correspondence, write their own autobiographies, and appoint family or friends to protect their reputations as official biographers. Thomas Hardy went so far as to compose his own life story to be published after his death, while falsely assigning authorship to his widow. After a brief background sketch of the history of biography from Greco-Roman times to the present, Donaldson recounts his experiences in writing biographies of a broad range of twentieth-century American writers: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, Archibald MacLeish, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Winfield Townley Scott, and Charlie Fenton.

Donaldson provides readers with a highly readable insiders’ introduction to literary biography. He suggests how to conduct interviews, and what not to do during the process. He offers sound advice about how closely biographers should identify with their subjects. He examines the ethical obligations of the biographer, who must aim for the truth without unduly or unnecessarily causing discomfort or worse to survivors. He shows us why and how misinformation comes into existence and tends to persist over time. He describes “the mythical ideal biographer,” an imaginary creature of universal intelligence and myriad talents beyond the reach of any single human being. And he suggests how its very impossibility makes the goal of writing a biography that captures the personality of an author a challenge well worth pursuing.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$48.41 online
$58.95 list price (save 17%)
In stock online
Ships free on orders over $25

From the Publisher

In The Impossible Craft, Scott Donaldson explores the rocky territory of literary biography, the most difficult that biographers try to navigate. Writers are accustomed to controlling the narrative, and notoriously opposed to allowing intruders on their turf. They make bonfires of their papers, encourage others to destroy correspondenc...

Scott Donaldson is an accomplished biographer and the Louise G. T. Cooley Professor of English at the College of William and Mary, emeritus. His publications include Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Works and Days (2009), Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship (1999), John Cheever: A Biography (1988), and Fool fo...

other books by Scott Donaldson

By Force Of Will: The Life And Art Of Ernest Hemingway
By Force Of Will: The Life And Art Of Ernest Hemingway

Paperback|Feb 1 2001

$35.08 online$35.50list price
The Impossible Craft: Literary Biography
The Impossible Craft: Literary Biography

Kobo ebook|Mar 3 2015

$31.59 online$40.99list price(save 22%)
Death of a Rebel: The Charlie Fenton Story
Death of a Rebel: The Charlie Fenton Story

Kobo ebook|Nov 1 2011

$38.49 online$49.99list price(save 23%)
see all books by Scott Donaldson
Format:HardcoverDimensions:296 pages, 9.4 × 6.38 × 1.05 inPublished:March 3, 2015Publisher:Penn State University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0271065281

ISBN - 13:9780271065281

Look for similar items by category:

Customer Reviews of The Impossible Craft: Literary Biography

Reviews

Extra Content

Table of Contents

Contents

Abbreviations

1 Beginnings

Biography: A Background Sketch

Becoming a Biographer

And Then I Wrote . . .

The Editor’s Hand: Hemingway

Fitzgerald and the Craft

The Amazing Archibald MacLeish

A Dual Biography of Fitz and Hem

Recovering Robinson

Other Chores, On to Fenton

2 Topics in Literary Biography

Fact and Fiction

Writers as Subjects

Ethical Issues

Sources: Letters

Sources: Interviews

3 The Impossible Craft

The Issue of Involvement

Trying to Capture Hemingway

The Mythical Ideal Biographer

What Biography Can’t Do

And Yet . . .

4 Case Studies

Telling Robinson’s Story: The Fight over a Poet’s Bones

Summer of ’24: Zelda’s Affair

Hemingway’s Battle with Biographers, 1949–1954

5 The Cheever Misadventure

Writing the Cheever

The Lawsuit

The Next Biography

Bibliography

Editorial Reviews

“While the autobiographical portions of The Impossible Craft are compelling enough, the parts that had me repeatedly reaching for my commonplace book (or rather clicking open the Word doc that has supplanted it) are those in which Donaldson undertakes a sort of tour d’horizon of the difficulties, weaknesses, hazards, and rewards of biography, and of who has memorably said what about them.”—Ben Downing, The Hopkins Review