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Any biographer must of necessity become a pilgrim a peripatetic, obsessed literary pilgrim, a traveler with four eyes.

Leon Edel

Biographers don’t get enough credit for the work they do; that’s why there’s Biographer’s Day! This holiday commemorates the history of biographers as a classical literature art form and helps people explore writing biographies as a way to discover other people’s lives. Want to know more about what you can do to celebrate Biographer’s Day? Read more to learn about the history of biography writing and how you can celebrate this exciting and engaging holiday.

History of Biographer’s Day

Biographer’s Day takes place on the anniversary of the meeting of Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell; however, biographies have existed much longer than their meeting. Originally, biographies were written historically, with one of the first biographies written during the time of the Roman Empire. The first found record of this kind of journal was written by Cornelius Nepos in 44 BC, who wrote an extensive biography on the most famous generals of the Roman and Greeks. During the Middle Ages, priests, monks, and hermits would write memoirs, mostly because much of the writing back then was written for the Roman Catholic Church. The same also went for the medieval Islamic cultures as well. However, even as more and more biographies were written during the 1500’s, it wasn’t considered to be a form of literature.

That’s where the story of Samuel Johnson came into play. When he and James Boswell published The Life of Samuel Johnson in 1791, Boswell’s research and narrative style on Johnson’s life helped set the standard for biographers, as during that time it was considered to be one of the best biographies in the English language. Even if biographies stagnated during the 19th century, autobiographies became more popular, and in today’s media-centered world, memoirs have become an innovative and quick way for people to research who people are on the Internet.

Today, many political figures and celebrities become tightly-knit with their biographers. Biographers are journalists who get all the nitty-gritty details of a person’s life, then decide how to disclose the information, and which details to hide behind closed curtains. Because of this, a friendship between biographer and biographee can play an immense role in how the story of a life is portrayed while maintaining a truthfulness about it.

Benefits of a well-detailed biography

A significant benefit of a biography is that they’re written from a 3rd-person perspective, showing how the person’s life has interacted with and affected aspects they may not have considered. While slightly macabre, it also shows the historical influences the person had after they may have passed away.

A well-written biography can make history come alive. For people who struggle to remember certain facts and figures about history, a biography can really help cement the ideas.

When approached, most biographers will not directly state they are first-and-foremost biographers, but rather storytellers. A fantastically written biography should build an entire story, one in which a reader is on the edge of his or her seat to know the next details. While facts should remain, well, factual, in a biography, the use of language can heighten the story of a life and have readers eager to turn each page. After all, each person’s life is full of details; it’s how the biographer spins them that can make them so enticing. The first goal of a biographer is to tell the truth of a person’s life, and the second: to make it a fascinating read.

When using the word “biography,” the first idea that may come to mind is a book, but a fantastic media for biography is documentary-style movies and shows, as well as the modern-day podcast. It’s a way for a biographer to use different media to convey a specific person’s life differently than just in the written word.

How to celebrate Biographer’s Day

If you want to learn more about biographers, research about some of the most famous biographers in history, such as the Greek biographer Plutarch or the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle. Other famous biographers include Norman Mailer who wrote about Marilyn Monroe and Lee Harvey Oswald, David McCullough who has written several biographies including those based on the lives of Harry Truman, John Adams, and Theodore Roosevelt. 

Modern-day reading material

For some interesting modern-day autobiographical reads, check out Tina Fey’s humorous memoir, Bossypants, or a more serious autobiography like Michelle Obama’s Becoming. And for some very strange memoirs, check out Augusten Burroughs books, based mostly on his peculiar childhood.

Memoirs differ slightly from autobiographies in that they chronicle a specific time or aspect of the writer’s life, while an autobiography is more all-encompassing, with details about the entire writer’s life to date.

For those desperate to have a biography written about them, but unwilling to write an autobiography themselves, there are professional ghost-writer biographers who are willing to write them for quite the pretty penny. An average 200-page ghostwritten biography will run anywhere from $15,000 to approximately $30,000 depending on the range of detail needed, and the amount of research involved. A biographer might charge as much as $45,000 for a 300-page biography.

If you find biographies interesting, find a portrait of a person you admire and take the day to read about them.

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