I enjoy writing biographies because biographies are full of stories. I once heard someone say that every person has a story, and that every person has a story that can break your heart. We are all human, no matter what our accomplishments. We all experience pain and joy, excitement and despair. To me, each life has an arc, ups and downs to be sure, but also an overall arc in the form of a narrative. That arc, or central story, is what makes a person unique.
As I approach each of my biographical subjects, I look for ways in to his/her life story, doors or windows that open to me from where I live in my own life story and offer me glimpses of insight into the subject I'm researching. I enter these life stories at points where they intersect with my own, and then I try to get to know the person as best I can through copious research. In many ways, to me, it's a lot like meeting a person and getting to know him/her in real life. You usually begin talking about what you have in common first, then build out from there.
Perhaps this method of working is why, until recently, I have felt most comfortable researching and writing the biographies of other writers.
EMILY DICKINSON: A BIOGRAPHY (Greenwood, 2004)
This book is based on my Ph.D. dissertation where I incorporated original research into a new biography of the poet for young adults. I became a scholar of the poet and my interest in this "writer's writer" only increased the more I found out about her. My research for my dissertation, this book, articles published in academic journals and books, and other projects in Dickinson studies have led me to Amherst, Massachusetts; Harvard University; and Brown University. I've presented my research in Dickinson internationally, including in Trondheim, Norway and at Oxford University, and am a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society. My current primary interests in the poet relate to her creative process and the context in which she wrote.
I admire the daring and precision of her artistry and the way she found the comfort of home and family to be so conducive to her creative process--as I do.
There is a companion website to this book here. Check it out!
"[P]rovides an accessible account of the poet's life and the major influences on her work ... a clearly written and admiring appraisal of the poet's life, with a conscientious attention to detail that ensures Dickinson becomes a vivid presence in the mind of the attentive reader. It is a valuable reference work for students new to Dickinson and Dickinson studies, and deserves a place on the relevant recommended reading lists."
—JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES, 2005
"Part of a series designed for high school students and public libraries, Kirk's slim but substantive volume would also serve undergraduates and the general reader wanting an up-to-date overview of Dickinson scholarship....Reader friendly, this volume includes a chronology of the poet's life set among historical and cultural events (1620-2004).
—EMILY DICKINSON INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY BULLETIN, November/December, 2004.
ENDORSEMENT FROM LIZ ROSENBERG
Professor of English & Creative Writing, Binghamton University:
"This biography is ground-breaking in so many wonderful ways--it presents a version of Dickinson that is neither the simpering old maid in white, nor the lunatic recluse, nor the untroubled woman of perfect health. It is a human portrait, drawing on new and never-released materials, as well as the best from all other materials. Kirk presents a balanced, thoughtful and thought-provoking picture of a dedicated female artist, who lived in many ways at the very heart of the cultured world, and in other ways in a world of her own determined devising. Young adults will appreciate the lively stories and prose, the illuminating details of a life (her sloppy and unsigned cross-stitchery, her skillful bread-baking, which chores she liked and which she hated; her friendships, relations, possible and probable loves). Adult admirers of Dickinson's work will find this a treasure trove as well. It is an altogether new thing: a full and fair biography of Emily Dickinson for young adult readers."
ENDORSEMENT FROM MARGARET H. FREEMAN
Emerita Professor of English at Los Angeles Valley College
Founding President of the Emily Dickinson International Society:
"Connie Ann Kirk's biography of the poet Emily Dickinson is a scholarly achievement, based on contemporary scholarship and meticulous in its accuracy. Treading carefully and sensitively among the many different views of the poet, Dr. Kirk paints a generous and lively picture of Emily Dickinson, her life, her work, her family and friends that offsets false mythologies. She provides fascinating new insights from her own research. Especially noteworthy is the scope of coverage Dr. Kirk gives to the story of the poet's life, the editing of the manuscripts, and the record of the poetry's subsequent reception and influence, all within a manageable and readable length. The book is a welcome and important addition to existing publications on the poet."
ENDORSEMENT FROM DR. SHEILA COGHILL; Professor and Chair of the Department of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead and Co-editor with Thom Tommaro of Visiting Emily Dickinson: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson:
"Excellent--so clear and informative. Especially useful and updated are...chapters regarding Dickinson and the Civil War, the problem(s) of editing her work and especially the myths and mysteries section. Well, it's all good, but these chapters especially respond to beginning readers' persistent questions about Dickinson's work...an excellent book! I've already referred several of my students to it for information."
SYLVIA PLATH: A BIOGRAPHY (Greenwood, 2004)
Greenwood asked me to write about Sylvia Plath, and I found the research much easier than the Dickinson research, since Plath was a twentieth century poet, and also because she kept copious journals, as many of her readers know. So much of her life story in other biographies seemed overshadowed by her early death, so one of my research goals was to uncover the other sides of Sylvia Plath that made her a human being rather than a myth or martyr-poet -- I wanted to know more about Sylvia the Girl Scout, the mother who laughed and enjoyed her children--as well as the serious and driven poet.
My research for this book was partially funded through an Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship from the Lilly Library of Indiana University--Bloomington. At the Lilly Library, I was able to research the Plath archives of manuscripts, papers, and artifacts, most of which came through a major donation by the poet's mother.
This book is also available in paperback by Prometheus Books.
"Greenwood's literary biographies are recommended picks for anyone studying a significant author's works, and Connie Ann Kirk's Sylvia Plath is a vivid, complex coverage presenting the facts of her life as they are currently known."
—INTERNET BOOK WATCH, August 2005
MARK TWAIN: A BIOGRAPHY (Greenwood, 2004)
Working on a biography of Samuel Clemens for young adults was a pleasure, since his life is full of stories that are fun to tell. In my research, I was awarded a Quarry Farm Fellowship which enabled me to study at Quarry Farm in Elmira, NY -- Twain's summer home and the place where he found the quiet necessary to work on so many of his now well-known books like ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN.
"[T]here are very few in-depth biographical coverages that reveal Mark Twain's personal life. Biographer Connie Kirk uses established Twain resources and adds new research and perspectives gleaned from Twain's personal letters and her discussions with family members: the result is an in-depth modern survey of Twain for new students of his work."
—MBR INTERNET BOOKWATCH, November, 2004
"Kirk has very carefully tempered Twain's biography with just enough literary criticism and modern scholarship to be informative to high school readers without burdening them with the material they may not be prepared to understand. "
—MARK TWAIN FORUM, September, 2004
Kirk successfully navigates between those pitfalls to create a short biography that is entertaining to read and still presents a rather thorough picture of Twain. She accomplishes this with a careful mixture of the sketchy and the detailed.
—MARK TWAIN FORUM, September, 2004
When one considers the complexity of Twain, the volume and variety of his writing, his many accomplishments, and his impact on literature, the task of condensing his life is daunting, yet Connie Ann Kirk has done so very effectively. Her biography of Twain is a straightforward chronological narrative of his life presented in six chapters starting with an introduction to the man and the author."
—MARK TWAIN FORUM, September, 2004
J. K. ROWLING: A BIOGRAPHY (Greenwood, 2003)
The Rowling book was my first biography. It was difficult to write because the subject is not only still living but she was at the height of her career at the time. There was so much going on in her life at the time of my writing that often the effort felt like chasing a tornado to write the book. The book has been a bestseller for the publisher. So far, it has been translated into Estonian, Japanese, and Chinese. After this project, I stayed involved with HARRY POTTER in several ways -- for example, I was the moderator for the official Barnes and Noble.com online HARRY POTTER Book Club for several years, and one of my online articles about the film, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, was linked to by the official Warner Bros. Facebook and Twitter pages for the film.
"Well researched and written, this biography will serve both the interested reader and the student looking for report material."
—VOYA ,February, 2004
"A must-have for school and public libraries. Kirk has written an appealing and highly readable introduction to the publishing phenomenon known as Harry Potter....The publisher and author are to be commended on a job well done! "
—ARBA Online 2004
"The scholarly writing and evaluative content make this volume useful to high school students studying Rowling and her work."
—SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, August, 2003
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