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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Carrying our collective stories


“Nonfiction writers are the packhorses of literature. We're meant to carry the story. If we can make it up and down the mountain by a reliable if not scenic route, we have delivered. Technique is optional.” – Stacy Schiff

Born on this day in 1961, Schiff started her career as an editor and was the senior editor at Simon & Schuster until 1990.  That’s when she shifted into writing and, in particular, began her focus on biography and non-fiction.  Since then she has written half-a-dozen acclaimed biographies and nonfiction bestsellers sandwiched around numerous essays and articles in such notable magazines and newspapers as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times Book Review.

After being a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Antoine de Saint Expurey (author of The Little Prince), Schiff won the 2000 Pulitizer for Vera, about Vera Nabokov, wife and muse of Nobel Prize winner Vladimir Nabokov.

Her fourth book, Cleopatra: A Life, was published to great acclaim in 2010. As the Wall Street Journal's reviewer put it, "Schiff does a rare thing: She gives us a book we'd miss if it didn't exist." The New Yorker termed the book "a work of literature."  Last year, she published
  The Witches: Salem, 1692 hailed by The New York Times
  as "an almost novelistic, thriller-like narrative.”
                             Schiff said she very much enjoys research but sometimes runs into walls trying to decipher her subjects’ writing and works.  In an ideal world,” she said, “ the perfect biographical subject would have been the star of his penmanship class at grade school - and would thereafter write an English that positively sings.” 

As for biography as her topic, something a novelist friend once told her “was not a real book,” she added, “The biographer has two lives: The one she leads, and the one she ultimately understands.”

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