This biographer’s mantra: ‘Every life is a gift’


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As an avid individuals watcher, I attempt to think about the lives of these whose paths cross mine. I devour biographies with an equal need to know the small print of anybody’s life: what normal their pondering, how they grew to show into who they’re, and notably how they overcame obstacles. I relish nonfiction books that take an sudden tack on a well-known determine (see “Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet,” reviewed correct proper right here). 

Earlier this spring, I had a probability to talk with Megan Marshall, this yr’s winner of the Biography International Organization Award for her physique of labor, which incorporates three biographies, all of extraordinary women. Her 2013 e-book, “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life,” obtained the Pulitzer Prize. She spoke relating to the place of a biographer as “helping readers bridge the gap between their experience and a life from the past.” 

Good biographies can carry out inspiration, giving readers a front-row seat on one totally different explicit individual’s struggles. In the case of Fuller, a Nineteenth-century journalist, feminist, and colleague of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “she had a vision for herself that really didn’t exist [in society],” Ms. Marshall says. “She speaks to readers today because she … developed this theory of ‘no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.’ They’re all sliding into each other. Nobody else was writing like that.” 

When readers see themselves and their occasions mirrored in a biography, it may give them perspective, Ms. Marshall says. “There is so much to be worried about and so much that seems hopeless. But if you go back and look at other times when there seemed to be no hope … you’ll see how people rose up anyway,” she says. “That is one of the most important things a biographer can do.”


She continues, “Just seeing how people renewed their hope, what right do we have to give up when people in extremely dire situations used whatever tools were available to them to try to make a difference?” 

Readers might shock how one explicit individual can change the trajectory of a society. Ms. Marshall explains the idea of a “trim tab,” a favourite thought of inventor Buckminster Fuller, who by one of the best ways was a grandnephew of Margaret Fuller. “A huge steamship or an airplane will have a trim tab, and just moving it the slightest bit can alter the direction,” she says. “I favor to suppose that anyone like Margaret Fuller or Buckminster Fuller may merely make barely distinction inside the giant stream of life.

“We can take those messages of those who didn’t give up,” she says. “Alternatively, you can learn from people who didn’t make it. Everyone is worthy of remembrance and … every life is a gift. And what you do with that gift is up to you.”


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