Edan Lepucki bemoans the struggle that is writing the author bio in her piece for The Millions titled “MFA Grads and Former Acrobats: Approaches to the Author Bio.” In it, she questions the growing trend in bios that seem to mention everything about the author except what he or she has accomplished in the literary world. We’ve all seen them. Just scanning the bios of the latest edition of the Oxford American gives us a pretty good picture of how far afield the author bio has gone:
Sarah Courteau is a writer and red-pencil wielder in Washington, D.C. She grew up in rural Madison County, Arkansas, where she ran barefoot all summer.
John Oliver Hodges eats rosemary. It’s good for the digestion, plus goes great with hot peppers–two green things: delicious. Try it on your fish. Rosemary, they say, is a midwife’s friend. Coat the walls and the baby slides out easy. He currently lives amongst the Asian population of Flushing, New York, and would dearly love to speak fluent Korean or Chinese.
Nate Powell was born in Little Rock and now works as an artist, musician, manager of Harlan Records, and self-publisher in Bloomington, Indiana, where he resides with his boo, Rachel, their bastard kitty, and their overly sensitive dog.
Ben Westhoff…lives in the New Jersey suburbs with his Mountain Brook, Alabama-native wife, Anna, who has him eating cheese grits.
I, like Ms. Lepucki, am skeptical – to say the least – of these sorts of bios. She writes:
Or is it because such a bio suggests that writing, and the devotion to that pursuit, isn’t worthy enough for its own three-line biography? Maybe it’s that tired idea that writers are lame, sheltered wimps who haven’t really lived. “Please!” these bios call out. “I’m more than just a writer! I am worthy of your admiration and respect!”
But is that what they’re really calling out? I don’t know about you, but when I read a bio like this my first thought is: that’s funny. My second thought: this person’s trying too hard – which tells me he has no idea what he’s doing.
What I really want to know is this: Who are you as a writer? What have you written? Where have you published? Where did you go to school? I want to know these things because, in all likelihood, I enjoyed your writing and would like to see more of it. I’d like to know where you studied because I’m interested in what programs are kicking out good writers. I want to know that you take this seriously. Because it’s my career and my passion. Because it’s a lot of hard work to be a writer. Because there are enough people out there who think that what we do is a hobby.
Maybe I’m being a total snob when it comes to this. And if that’s the case, so be it. I’m a snob. It’s not that I’m without a sense of humor. Yeah. Kitschy bios are funny. But I tend to take the writers of them less seriously than those who can show some credibility, those who tell me in those short three lines that what they do means something to them and should, therefore, mean something to me.