Annalyn Swan has taught life-writing—biography and memoir—at the Graduate Center since 2014. A graduate of Princeton University and King’s College, Cambridge University, she has co-authored two biographies of artists with her husband, the art critic Mark Stevens. The first, de Kooning: An American Master, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Critics Circle award and was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times.The second, Francis Bacon will be published in the U.S. by Knopf in November 2020 and subsequently in the U.K. (Collins) and Italy.
In Spring 2020, she will teach BAM 70300 – Approaches to Life-Writing on Mondays from 6:30-8:30 pm. Course description follows:
Ever since Plutarch brought Alexander the Great blazingly to life in his seminal Lives (2nd century CE), people have loved to read—and write—biographies. Approaches to Life Writing will be an exploration of the art and craft of the genre. What do great biographies have in common—and how do they differ? How are scenes set, facts organized, context provided? How novelistic can a biography be? And is there, finally, such a thing as “truth” in biography or autobiography, or a “definitive” account? From biography as gossipy inside edition (Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson), to biography as irreverent debunking (Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians), to contemporary biography and memoir, we will explore the many ways a writer can tease out the “figure under the carpet,” as Leon Edel, the great biographer of Henry James, put it.
For those who wish to do so, this is also a course about practicing the art ourselves. For the final paper, in lieu of a more conventional essay, students will have the opportunity to write an autobiographical chapter, or else research and write a chapter of a biography.