Writer explains the ‘music’ of writing biographies

Sara Levering, Staff Writer

Tracy Daugherty is an accomplished and successful writer that has received several book awards over the past 30 years.

He is also an emeritus distinguished professor in English and creative writing at Oregon State University.

Daugherty spoke on his biography on Joan Didion titled “The Last Love Song” which made it onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Didion made it clear that she was not interested in cooperating with him for the book.

However, Daugherty acknowledged that she did not express an objection to the book being written.

He was expressive about his concerns about the book before, during, and even after it had been finished.

The overarching question was and still remains, who has the authority to write about someone else?

Didion is known for her novels and literary journalism. She was a cultural icon, and made a name for herself in the fashion world.

During his talk, Daugherty focused on Didion’s career as a writer. He wrote biographies before, but this endeavor was different. It presented a new challenge that he would wrestle with during and even after the book was released in August, 2015.

When approached about writing about a female, he knew it was going to be a difficult adventure.

He joked that he spent five years writing and interviewing to prepare for tackling this biography, but in actuality he had done his homework on Didion for 40 years prior to even deciding to write about her, as he mused over her work and what interested him about her and her writing.

He admitted that he still struggles to find a balance between the good and bad reviews. “The tone of public discourse is becoming harsher,” he said.

He also acknowledged that everything people said about the book, he had thought about prior to it being mentioned.

Daugherty believes that to be a successful creative writer, there needs to be a critical component.

He believes that “biography exists as a congenial form.” That is to say and acknowledge that the genre of biography itself falls between gaps and is not always taken seriously.

Daugherty read a small portion from the biography and concluded his lecture by saying “writing is a music to me,” and that whoever writes a biography on Didion in the future will in no way resemble the one that he wrote because of his own authentic interests in her as well as his aims of writing the biography.