A Genre That Tells the Story of a Person’s Life – Biography/Memoir

A biography is a description of a person’s life that goes into detail and covers more than just the basic facts. It can include relationships, work, education, childhood and the experiences in a person’s life. This type of work is usually non-fiction. But it is also possible to portray a person’s life using fiction.

There are various types of including an authorized biography that is written with the permission of the person whose life is being portrayed. A memoir is another type that usually features just a small part of a person’s life. For example, their career. Autobiographies are another type but will be written by the person themselves or with the help of a ghostwriter or collaborator.

The history of biographical writing

The existence of biographical writing as an independent genre emerged in the 18th century. Before that time this type of writing was considered to be a subsection of history. It’s current form was recognized at the turn of the 20th century.

James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Jackson is considered to be the first modern biography and was published in 1791. The author didn’t actually meet Johnson until he was 54 years of age. But filled in the gaps by way of additional research. As well as being the first biography it is also considered by many to be the greatest ever written in the English language.

Biography writing was not a common part of the 19th century until around the middle of the century when the number being printed enjoyed rapid growth. This was due to the fact that more people were actually reading. The books became available to a wider audience and the introduction of paperback editions made books much more affordable.

Autobiographies also became popular around this time and was helped by cheap printing and the rise of education. The concept of celebrity and fame also developed and helped to fuel people’s interest in reading about other people’s lives.

There are a number of different book awards, with annual prizes for writing a biography. For example:

  • Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography – United States
  • National Biography Award – Australia
  • Whitbread Prize for Best Biography – United Kingdom
  • JR Ackerley Prize for Autobiography – United Kingdom
  • Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize – Canadas
  • Prix Goncourt de la Biographie – France

More biographies coming up in 2018

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Korea

biography books

This is the true story of one man’s life in one of the most brutal and totalitarian regimes in the world. The author is half-Korean, half-Japanese and spent a large part of his life feeling he had n real home. He moved with his family to North Korea when thirteen years of age and the family became part of the lowest social class.

by Masaji Ishikawa

I Can Only Imagine: A Memoir by Bart Millard

This book tells the story behind bestselling single in the history of Christian music “I Can Only Imagine”

by Robert Noland

biography books