The biographer, so often in the shadows, kibitzing, casting doubt, proving facts, comes to the stage in this funny, poignant, endearing tale of how writers' live get documented. James Atlas, the celebrated chronicler of Saul Bellow and Delmore Schwartz, takes us back to his own childhood in suburban Chicago, where he fell in love with literature and, early on, found in himself the impulse to study writers' lives. We meet Richard Ellmann, the great biographer of James Joyce and Atlas's professor during a transformative year at Oxford. We get to know Atlas's first subject, the "self-doomed" poet Delmore Schwartz. And we are introduced to a bygone cast of intellectuals such as Edmund Wilson and Dwight Macdonald (the "tall pines," as Mary McCarthy once called them, cut down now, according to Atlas, by the "merciless pruning of mortality") and, of course, the elusive Bellow, "a metaphysician of the ordinary."
James Atlas is the author of Bellow: A Biography; Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet (nominated for the National Book Award); and the memoir My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor's Tale. The founder of the Lipper/Viking Penguin Lives series, Atlas was for many years an editor at The New York Times, first at the book review and later at the magazine. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, and other journals. He lives in New York City.
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, and the Gilbert Chinard Prize of the Institut Français d'Amérique. Her fourth book, Cleopatra: A Life, was published to great acclaim in 2010. Her most recent book is The Witches: Salem, 1692, an acclaimed history of the Salem Witch Trials.