Philip Roth might no longer be writing fiction, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working. In a recent interview, he said that his current project is helping his official biographer with notes, explanations, and documents. It’s a savvy move from Roth, whose legacy will undoubtedly be more influenced by an expansive authorized biographer than another novel.
This got me thinking about other writers who deserve a serious, investigative biography while they are still around to authorize it (or at least turn it down). Here are 11 authors about whom someone should be writing up proposals right this very minute.
1. Toni Morrison (b. 1934)
I’m not going to even dignify the thought that anyone would question this choice.
2. Margaret Atwood (b. 1939)
Dubbed “the badass bitch of Canadian letters” by our own Dr. B, Atwood can (and has) done it all. From sci-fi to opera, her range is dizzying. Plus, she is going boldly into the new world of writing with a variety of literary experiments.
3. Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937)
Not only is he a living titan of postmodernism, but this is also one of the most recent pictures of him. There’s about as much of a chance that Philip Roth writes an erotic trilogy based on The Fault in Our Stars as there is of an authorized Pynchon bio happening, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be fascinating.
4. Salman Rushdie (b. 1947)
1. Death sentence from major religious figure.
2. A personal life splashed all over gossip pages.
3. Won the Booker of Bookers.
4. We don’t need a #4.
5. Amiri Baraka (b. 1934)
Poet, playwright, and radical, Amiri Baraka has always been a little too much for America to handle. He literary work alone is worth a comprehensive study, but his connections to the Beats, jazz musicians of many stripes, and his black nationalist activisms makes his life off the page just as compelling. We don’t have many writers these days that relentlessly attack common understanding as Baraka has.
6. Tom Wolfe (b. 1931)
Wolfe seems like a character out of one of his books: flamboyant, fascinating, and flawed. From The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, to The Right Stuff to The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe has been the indispensable chronicler of the American Century.
7. N. Scott Momaday (b. 1934)
Not all of our literary masters are the icons they should be. His 1969 Pulitzer winning The House Made of Dawn ushered in the “Native American Literary Renaissance.” A poet, playwright, essayist, and illustrator, Momaday should be read and talked about much more than he is.
8. Joan Didion (b. 1934)
Didion has charted her internal life just about as openly as can possibly be imagined. But rather than sate my thirst for Didion, it has only increased it. I want the 10,000 foot view of her life, career, and work, as I already have the inside-the-mind look.
9. Chinua Achebe (b. 1930)
Say you grew up in a tribal village, converted to Christianity, moved to London, wrote the most-read African novel of all time, and got embroiled in a civil war. Your name would then be Chinua Achebe, and you would be one of the most interesting people alive.
10. Harper Lee (b. 1926)
I’m endlessly fascinated by Harper Lee, and the source of that fascination is precisely what we don’t know. She said that she never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird because she didn’t want to go through the publishing process again and that she didn’t have anything else to say. I don’t believe the latter for a second. Plus, we’d get a first-hand account of her work with Capote on In Cold Blood, a project that seems all the more contested these days.
11. Stephen King (b. 1947)
The very model of a modern major writer. Throw in Hollywood, substance abuse, and a life-changing accident, and you’ve got yourself a page-turner of a literary biography.
Who else would you want to read about? (I kept this to writers born before 1950, but you needn’t.)