Following our first installment of the VCLA Author Series at Handley Library (with the wonderful writer John Lingan), the series continued last Thursday with a discussion about “The Art of Political Biography.”
The timing for this particular event was fortuitous, as I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways information, ranging from fiction to entertainment to news (including the type of news we’d call infotainment) is both produced and received. I’m optimistic that with the Internet, information is no longer a luxury, and it’s possible to be informed on a variety of issues, even to become an expert of sorts on specific things. However, as we’ve seen, there’s no safeguard or regulating mechanism for what qualifies as “news.” Hence, the dreaded –and complicated– notion of “Fake News” and the ease with which people can silo the info they receive; more info suddenly becomes more of the same.
Joining me were the authors and journalists Howard Means and Harry Jaffe. Veteran writers with decades of experience writing about the D.C. and national scene (to include crime and, of course, politics) for The Washingtonian, these gentlemen are as equipped as anyone to talk about what’s changed –and what hasn’t– with regards to politicians and how to write about them.
Howard Means, author of several acclaimed books, including 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence, spoke about the importance of sources, and how to proceed when your subject refuses to cooperate (or has plans to write his own book, as was the case with Colin Powell). Suffice it to say, Means remains certain only unauthorized biographies have a hope of presenting anything approximating a nuanced, objective view.
Harry Jaffe, also a celebrated author, spoke about his tragicomic efforts getting Bernie Sanders to agree to a single conversation. For a variety of reasons, none of them especially surprising, he was unsuccessful. As such, his latest effort, Why Bernie Sanders Matters, is required reading, particularly for those wondering if (and how, and why) Sanders may throw his hat in the ring again for 2020. (Bonus: my own semi-sardonic take, from very early 2016, can be found here.)
Although it was a frigid night, a robust audience braved the elements and Means and Jaffe engaged them in a spirited and enlightening Q&A. As mentioned, this is the format I plan to use for these monthly events: allowing writers an opportunity to discuss –and read from– their works (which will be available for purchase and signing), and engage them in conversation, while encouraging participation from anyone in attendance. Interactive, positive, enjoyable. My goal –and the primary mission of VCLA– is to celebrate creativity and the people who dedicate their lives to telling stories.
The series continues on January 12 at 2:00 pm, as I have the honor of welcoming Egyptian novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji, whose controversial book Using Life led to his imprisonment for “violating public modesty.” Make plans and tell some friends: this is going to be an amazing event! (If you’ve not signed up for our newsletter or liked us on Facebook, do so and be fully in the loop for all-things VCLA!)
(Once again, VCLA is grateful to Barbara Dickinson, at Handley, and Christine Patrick, owner of local treasure The Winchester Book Gallery, for their support and friendship.)