What is the Difference?
Biography: "the life story of a person written by someone else."
Example: Martin Luther King Jr. by Marshall Frady
Autobiography: "a book about a person's life, written by that person"
Example: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Franklin, Benjamin
Memoir: "a book or other piece of writing based on the writer's personal knowledge of famous people, places, or events.”
Example: This Child will be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Qoman President by Johnson-Sirleaf, Ellen
(Definitions from the Cambridge Dictionary)
Pulitzer Prize Winners: For a distinguished biography, autobiography or memoir by an American author
Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography
National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years (New York Times)
50 Essential Memoirs (Barnes and Noble)
Lists from Fivebooks.com
Lists from Goodreads.com
BIO Award Winner Marshall on What Makes a Gripping Biography
The Short Take - 3 Elements
1. Accuracy is number one. I’m not going to trust a biographer’s account unless I’m certain she’s got the facts straight. There are many ways to demonstrate you’ve done your homework, both in the text itself and by giving useful source notes.
2. Spontaneity, in biography, is a sense you pick up from the writer’s style. I like to feel directly addressed by the writer, as if the biographer is speaking to me. There are many ways this can be done — perhaps by letting the reader in on the documents and interviews you’ve sifted through to shape your account and reach your conclusions. Or maybe just a fresh, you-are-there way of telling the life story.
3. Mystery really comes down to plot. Every life moves from birth to death. But how does this particular life take shape? Where does it lead? The biographer must find a narrative arc that’s both accurate and compelling — that keeps readers wondering what will happen next, even if they already know the outcome.
What Makes a Good Biography?
Biographies about the lives of important historical figures, celebrities, or artistic luminaries are a massive undertaking. The writer must address the issue of how to make this person accessible to readers without reducing their work to a simple story. The best biographies strike this balance perfectly."