Writing and Publishing Black Women’s Biography in the Black Lives Matter Era

Ashley D. Farmer, Radcliffe Fellow 2019–2020
Tanisha C. Ford
, Radcliffe Fellow 2018–2019

This seminar brings together Black women’s biography writers and publishing industry professionals to explore strategies for producing life writing that reaches a broad and diverse public audience. Black women’s life writing has been among the fastest-growing literary subgenres in the past several years—due in part to the Black Lives Matter movement, Black feminist engagement on social media, and Americans’ fascination with the growing number of prominent Black women in the political sphere. Long before this explosion of memoirs and biographies on and by Black women, historians such as Nell Painter and Barbara Ransby led the way in the 1990s and early 2000s, writing pathbreaking biographies and establishing the methodologies that other scholars would build upon. And while Black women’s biography has remained a vital form of writing and research for academics at various career stages, only a few have managed to secure contracts with commercial publishers and garner wider audience reach. Rarely do academics have an opportunity to engage with commercial industry professionals, to pitch their work, or to ask all of their burning questions. This seminar aims to demystify the commercial publishing process for Black women biographers who are weighing the pros and cons of trade and academic publishing. Convened by former Radcliffe fellows and biographers Ashley D. Farmer and Tanisha C. Ford, the two-day interactive workshop will provide writers an opportunity to workshop their book proposals in a supportive environment as they learn more about the key roles of literary agents, executive editors, and publicists.