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ENG 202: Writing and Research in English

Exploration of research materials for literary text analysis and completion of Dr. Kumbier's Literary Quest Assignment

Biography Defined

A biography is an historical account of a person's life by a third party based on journals, first hand accounts, letters, etc.

Example: Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812 to John and Elizabeth Dickens.

Researching Tips

By Dr. William Kumbier

  • Skim a brief biography- get a quick overview of an author’s life
    • EXAMPLE:    
      American Short-Story Writers Before 1880. Ed. Bobby Ellen Kimbel and William E. Grant. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 74. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. p303-322.
  • Look for critical biographies- an in depth, thoroughly researched, and documented information on one author generally integrating brief studies of an author’s works with a very detailed account of the author’s life

A wide range of resources is available for finding biographical information about an author, depending on how much information and what sort of information you want to find.  First, there are relatively brief biographies, which will give you a quick overview of an author’s life, such as those found in reference collections like the Dictionary of Literary Biography, or in short books, such as the Penguin Lives series.  Often these are useful for orienting yourself to the author’s life and work and for leads to other sources. 

Second, there are biographies, often written by friends or family members of the author, which, although they may not be considered scholarly by today’s standards, often provide invaluable, personal perspectives on the author.  In this category we might also include authors’ autobiographies. 

Finally, there are full-fledged critical biographies of an author, thoroughly researched and documented and usually integrating brief studies of an author’s works with a very detailed account of the author’s life (Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf or Richard Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce).

It is important to know, once you locate a biography of an author, just what sort of biography it is so that you can use it intelligently and appropriately.

Spiva Library Catalog Search

To determine if Spiva Library has books containing biographical author information conduct an subject search with the name of your author.

For example, in the search box below, change 'Keyword' to 'LC Subject' and type the name (last name, first name) of your author in the 'Search for:' field.

Library: Search by:
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How to Search SWAN & MOBIUS for Book length Biographical Materials

Recommended Databases to Search

Contemporary Authors - provides complete biographical and bibliographical information and references on more than 120,000 U.S. and international authors.

Dictionary of Literary Biography - more than 16,000 biographical and critical essays on the lives, works, and careers of the world's most influential literary figures from all eras and genres.

Something About the Author - examines the lives and works of authors and illustrators for children and young adults and is the preeminent source on authors and literature for young people.

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