Atlas describes following the authors' trajectory from birthplace through foreign travels to the grave ("Death," Atlas sadly observes, "is the biographer's worst enemy"), studying unpublished letters and manuscripts in widely scattered archives, searching for school records, finding family and friends to interview, and discovering that famous older people are often quite lonely. During interviews he did not use a tape recorder. He learned to draw people out and remain silent, to take notes while eating and (sometimes) getting drunk, adding to his notes immediately after leaving. He refereed fights, often about money, between the children of different wives. My own responses from valuable sources ranged from "I curse the day you ever heard my name" when I tried to extract a privately owned manuscript by Somerset Maugham to "I've been waiting all my life for you to come" from the daughter of Robert Frost's lover.
Friday, October 06, 2017
… Literary biography: possibility and peril – LA Times. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)