When I’m not a creative writer, I am a library faculty member at Cal State East Bay. One of my responsibilities is research and I have begun to research biography. Where can it be found? How reliable is it? What should we trust? As authors, we want our biographies to be what we want them to be, but what is that? The truth? Some version of that? Do we want to hide or lie about any of it (age anyone?)?
In a library, you generally have multiple sources for biographical information—commercial databases, the open Web, physical books on the shelves—but none of these guarantee that everything is accurate or complete, something that can be very important for critical analysis of our work (once we’re famous enough to be searched).
I have just started a project to analyze biographical information for literary authors writing in English (I have to limit my research somehow). I am analyzing biographical information in two commercial databases (Wilson’s Biography Reference Bank and Gale’s Literature Resource Center), Wikipedia (which is not considered authoritative as anyone can change it, but which often has unique, useful, and accurate information), and open Web sites (other than Wikipedia), which I search through Google.
This project will take me a year to complete, but I’ve finished a pilot study (searching about 50 names) and developed the hypothesis that you need all these sources in order to find out as much as you can about a literary author who has written or is writing in English and that, depending on the author, each of these sources can be more or less meaningful.
If this is interesting to you, stay tuned for updates.