11/19 – Lili Anolik on Eve Babitz, with Elizabeth Frank

The goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky and a graduate of Hollywood High, Babitz posed in 1963, at age twenty, playing chess with the French artist Marcel Duchamp. She was naked; he was not. The photograph, cheesecake with a Dadaist twist, made her an instant icon of art and sex. Babitz spent the rest of the decade rocking and rolling on the Sunset Strip, honing her notoriety. Then, at nearly thirty, her It girl days numbered, Babitz was discovered—as a writer—by Joan Didion. She would go on to produce seven books, usually billed as novels or short story collections, always autobiographies and confessionals. Under-known and under-read during her career, she’s since experienced a breakthrough. Now in her mid-seventies, she’s on the cusp of literary stardom and recognition as an essential—as the essential—LA writer. Her prose achieves that American ideal: art that stays loose, maintains its cool, and is so sheerly enjoyable as to be mistaken for simple entertainment. (more…)

11/13 – Biographer’s International Organization’s Editorial Excellence Award to Ileene Smith

Please join the Leon Levy Center for Biography for the presentation of the ​Biographer’s International Organization’s Editorial Excellence Award to Ileene Smith of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Smith has been vice president and executive editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux since 2012. She is also editorial director of the Jewish Lives series published by Yale University Press and the Leon D. Black Foundation. Smith has previously been the recipient of the PEN/Roger Klein Award, the Tony Godwin Memorial Award, and a Jerusalem Fellowship. The event will include a reception, a brief panel discussion on editing biography, and the presentation of the award to Ileene Smith.
The event is free and open to the public, but we ask that you RSVP in advance, since seating is limited.

11/12 – Lawrence Weschler on Oliver Sacks: In Conversation with Laura J. Snyder and Kai Bird

Lawrence Weschler’s And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? is a biographical memoir of his 35-year friendship with the late neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks. Upon its publication, Weschler joins in a discussion about “the poet laureate of medicine” (The New York Times) with Laura J. Snyder (author of Eye of the Beholder), who, as the first Sloan/Levy Fellow, is working on a biography of Sacks, and Kai Bird, executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography. Weschler’s many books include Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder. Reserve here.
Tue, November 12, 2019 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM EST
Elebash Recital Hall
Presented by the Leon Levy Center for Biography.

11/8 – James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal

In a feat of remarkable research and timely reclamation, Eric K. Washington uncovers the nearly forgotten life of James H. Williams (1878–1948), the chief porter of Grand Central Terminal’s Red Caps ― a multitude of Harlem-based black men whom he organized into the essential labor force of America’s most august railroad station. Washington reveals that despite the deeply racialized and often exploitative nature of the work, the Red Cap was a highly coveted job for college-bound black men determined to join New York’s bourgeoning middle class. Examining the deeply intertwined subjects of class, labor, and African American history, Washington chronicles Williams’s life, showing how the enterprising son of freed slaves successfully navigated the segregated world of the northern metropolis, and in so doing ultimately achieved financial and social influence. With this biography, Williams must now be considered, along with Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jacqueline Onassis, one of the great heroes of Grand Central’s storied past.

RSVP here.

  • Friday, November 8, 2019
  • 6:30 PM -  8:00 PM

Presented by the Gotham Center for New York City History, with the Leon Levy Center for Biography.

11/6 – Edmund Morris Tribute

  Patricia Bosworth, Sylvia Jukes Morris, Kai Bird, Sylvia Nasar, Robert Loomis and Leonard de Graaf Wednesday, November 6  |  6:30 – 8 PM  |  Proshansky Auditorium Reserve here   Join us on for a tribute to the late Edmund Morris, esteemed biographer of Edison, published Random House and called “…a tour de force by a master” by Kirkus. Morris is also the author of the controversial Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, and the trilogy biographies of Theodore Roosevelt: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize), Theodore Rex, and Colonel Roosevelt.   The evening will begin with opening remarks from Kai Bird, Executive Director and Distinguished Lecturer of CUNY’s Graduate Center’s Leon Levy Center for Biography. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Bird is currently writing a biography on President Jimmy Carter.   He will introduce the panel, who will discuss Morris, his life and works; but the main focus will be on Edison:
  • Moderator Patricia Bosworth, Vanity Fair Contributing Editor and author of eight biographies including the upcoming Protest Song, the story of Paul Robeson vs. J. Edgar Hoover.
  • Sylvia Jukes Morris, who was married to Morris for over 50 years, and is the author of the two-volume biography, Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Booth and Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Booth Luce.
  • Robert Loomis, renowned Random House Editor who edited all of Morris’s books and whose stable of authors include Maya Angelou, William Styron, Shelby Foote, and Stacy Schiff.
  • Leonard de Graaf, Head Archivist at the Thomas Edison National Park, and author of Edison and the Rise of Innovation.
  • Sylvia Nasar was an economics correspondent for the New York Times and held the Knight professorship at the Columbia Journalism School. She is the author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius. She is currently working on Fellow Countrymen about six men and women in the West who colluded with the Soviets in the 1930s and 1940s.

10/21 – Tom Segev on David Ben-Gurion, with Avi Shilon and Kai Bird

  As the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion long ago secured his reputation as a leading figure of the twentieth century. Determined from an early age to create a Jewish state, he thereupon took control of the Zionist movement, declared Israel’s independence, and navigated his country through wars, controversies and remarkable achievements. And yet Ben-Gurion remains an enigma—he could be driven and imperious, or quizzical and confounding. In this definitive biography, Israel’s leading journalist-historian Tom Segev uses large amounts of previously unreleased archival material to give an original, nuanced account, transcending the myths and legends that have accreted around the man. Segev’s probing biography ranges from the villages of Poland to Manhattan libraries, London hotels, and the hills of Palestine, and shows us Ben-Gurion’s relentless activity across six decades. Along the way, Segev reveals for the first time Ben-Gurion’s secret negotiations with the British on the eve of Israel’s independence, his willingness to countenance the forced transfer of Arab neighbors, his relative indifference to Jerusalem, and his occasional “nutty moments”—from UFO sightings to plans for Israel to acquire territory in South America. Segev also reveals that Ben-Gurion first heard about the Holocaust from a Palestinian Arab acquaintance, and explores his tempestuous private life, including the testimony of four former lovers. The result is a full and startling portrait of a man who sought a state “at any cost”—at times through risk-taking, violence, and unpredictability, and at other times through compromise, moderation, and reason. (more…)

10/15 – Robert Caro on Robert Caro: In Conversation with Kai Bird

In his recent book, WorkingRobert Caro—the two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author of monumental biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson—gives a rare glimpse into his own life and work. Caro’s classic The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York was named one of the 100 greatest books of the 20th century by Modern Library. He has written four of a planned five volumes of the acclaimed The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Caro speaks with Kai Bird, executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography.

Reservations are full, but seats are being held aside for current students in the M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir.

Please RSVP to BAM@gc.cuny.edu.

This event will be LIVE-STREAMED.

October 15, 2019: 6:30 PM Proshansky Auditorium (C level)
Presented by the Leon Levy Center for Biography.  

9/25 – David Nasaw: My Three Moguls

12th Annual Leon Levy Biography Lecture

In telling the stories of three powerful men—Andrew Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst, and Joseph P. Kennedy—David Nasaw discovered that individuals, no matter how rich and politically influential, do not make history by themselves. Nasaw—who is the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Distinguished Professor of History at The Graduate Center—reveals what he learned about the exercise and limits of power, in this year’s annual talk on writing and researching biography. His highly acclaimed and best-selling books include The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. KennedyAndrew Carnegie; and The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst.
September 25, 2019: 6:30 PM Proshansky Auditorium (C level)
Presented by the Leon Levy Center for Biography. Reserve Now

9/19 – Ben Moser on Susan Sontag, with Brenda Wineapple

Benjamin Moser was born in Houston. He is the author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book of 2009. For his work bringing Clarice Lispector to international prominence, he received Brazil's first State Prize for Cultural Diplomacy. He has published translations from French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. He is a former books columnist for Harper's Magazine and The New York Times Book Review and has written for The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, and The New York Review of Books. His latest book, Sontag: Her Life and Work, is published by Ecco Press. Formerly executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography, Brenda Wineapple currently teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir. She is the author of Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877, a New York Times “Notable Book;” White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award; Genêt: A Biography of Janet FlannerSister Brother Gertrude and Leo Stein; and Hawthorne: A Life, which received the Ambassador Award. Her most recent book is The Impeachers: the Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation.
September 19, 2019: 6:30 - 8 PM
C200: Proshansky Auditorium

9/17 – Eleanor Randolph on The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg

Eleanor Randolph’s new book, The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg, offers a revealing portrait of the business innovator, philanthropist, and former New York City mayor who continues to make national headlines. Randolph, a veteran New York Times reporter and editorial writer, who was a Biography Fellow at The Graduate Center, had unprecedented access to the famously private Bloomberg for this biography. She joins in a discussion with Sam Roberts, longtime New York Times columnist and editor and host of the TV program The New York Times Close Up With Sam Roberts. Register here
Tue, September 17, 2019 - 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
Elebash Recital Hall
Presented with the Leon Levy Center for Biography and the Gotham Center for NYC History