Kitty Kelley Wins 2023 BIO Award
Kitty Kelley has won the 14th BIO Award, bestowed annually by the Biographers International Organization to a distinguished colleague who has made major contributions to the advancement of the art and craft of biography.
Widely regarded as the foremost expert and author of unauthorized biography, Kelley has displayed courage and deftness in writing unvarnished accounts of some of the most powerful figures in politics, media, and popular culture. Of her art and craft, Kelley said, in American Scholar, “I do not relish living in a world where information is authorized, sanitized, and homogenized. I read banned books, I applaud whistleblowers, and I reject any suppression by church or state. To me, the unauthorized biography, which requires a combination of scholarly research and investigative reporting, is best directed at those figures still alive and able to defend themselves, who exercise power over our lives. . . . I firmly believe that unauthorized biography can be a public service and a boon to history.”
Among other awards, Kelley was the recipient of: the 2005 PEN Oakland/Gary Webb Anti-Censorship Award; the 2014 Founders’ Award for Career Achievement, given by the American Society of Journalists and Authors; and, in 2016, a Lifetime Achievement Award, given by The Washington Independent Review of Books. Her impressive list of lectures and presentations includes: leading a winning debate team in 1993, at the University of Oxford, under the premise “This House Believes That Men Are Still More Equal Than Women;” and, in 1998, a lecture at the Harvard Kennedy School for Government on the subject “Public Figures: Are Their Private Lives Fair Game for the Press?” In addition, Kelley was named by Vanity Fair to its Hall of Fame as part of the “Media Decade” and she has been a New York Times bestseller multiple times.
For over 30 years, Kelley has been a full-time freelance writer. In addition to the American Scholar, her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Times, The New Republic, and McCall’s. She is also a frequent contributor to The Washington Independent Review of Books.
Heather Clark, chair of the BIO Awards Committee, said: “The Awards committee is thrilled to recognize Kitty Kelley for her outstanding contributions to biography over nearly six decades. We admire her courage in speaking truth to power, and her determination to forge ahead with the story in the face of opposition from the powerful figures she holds accountable. The committee would also like to recognize Kitty’s many years of service to BIO, especially her fundraising prowess and commitment to growing BIO’s membership ranks. Kitty is a force of nature and a deeply inspiring figure who deserves the highest recognition from BIO for her contributions to advancing the art and craft of biography.”
Of her award, Kelley said, “I’m dazzled by the BIO honor and feel like Cinderella when the glass slipper fit. Please don’t wake me up from this dream.”
Previous BIO Award winners are Megan Marshall, David Levering Lewis, Hermione Lee, James McGrath Morris, Richard Holmes, Candice Millard, Claire Tomalin, Taylor Branch, Stacy Schiff, Ron Chernow, Arnold Rampersad, Robert Caro, and Jean Strouse.
Kelley will give the keynote address at the 2023 BIO Conference, on Saturday, May 20.
2023 BIO Award Winner Kitty Kelley interviewed by Heath Hardage Lee, March 28, 2023
“Martin’s Dream Day” Chosen for ILA Teachers’ Choices Reading List
The International Literacy Association (ILA) on May 1, 2018 announced the winning titles of the 2018 Choices reading lists: an annual selection of outstanding new children’s and young adults’ books, curated by students and educators themselves. These lists are issued during Children’s Book Week each year.
This year, Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley was included as a Teachers’ Choice for Intermediate Readers (ages 8-11).
Each year, thousands of children, young adults, and educators around the United States select their favorite recently published books for the International Literacy Association’s Choices reading lists. These lists are used in classrooms, libraries, and homes to help readers of all ages find books they will enjoy.
The International Literacy Association (ILA) is a global advocacy and membership organization dedicated to advancing literacy for all through its network of more than 300,000 literacy educators, researchers and experts across 78 countries. With over 60 years of experience, ILA has set the standard for how literacy is defined, taught and evaluated. ILA collaborates with partners across the world to develop, gather and disseminate high-quality resources, best practices and cutting-edge research to empower educators, inspire students and inform policymakers. ILA publishes The Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy and Reading Research Quarterly.
“Martin’s Dream Day” is Woodson Honor Winner
National Council for the Social Studies “established the Carter G. Woodson Book Awards for the most distinguished books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States. First presented in 1974, this award is intended to ‘encourage the writing, publishing, and dissemination of outstanding social studies books for young readers that treat topics related to ethnic minorities and race relations sensitively and accurately.’”
Elementary Level Honoree
Martin’s Dream Day
by Kitty Kelley
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition
Jamie Raskin, Member of Congress. presented Kitty Kelley in April 2017 with a Certificate of Special Recognition for “Your Irrepressible Journalism and Irresistible Analysis of the Private Lives of Public Figures.”
Kitty Kelley to Headline JCA Dinner
Kitty Kelley is this year’s honoree at The Jewish Council for the Aging’s 24th annual Sylvia Blajwas Productive Aging Award Dinner, which will be held Sunday, May 21, 2017 at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.
There will be cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction, starting at 5:30 p.m.
Previous honorees have included Sam Waterston, Alan and Arlene Alda, Sally Quinn, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Richard Goodwin, Edgar Bronfman Sr., Cokie and Steve Roberts, Phyllis Richman, Judith Viorst, Phil Donahue, Daniel Schorr, Robert Prosky, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Eunice and Sargent Shriver, Roberta Peters, Gwen Verdon, Mike Wallace, Al Hirschfeld, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Katharine Graham, and The Honorable Louis Goldstein, Comptroller of the State of Maryland.
The Jewish Council for the Aging is the leading aging agency in the Greater Washington D.C. area.
Washington Independent Review Lifetime Achievement Award
Kitty Kelley received the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Independent Review of Books. The award was presented at the 4th annual “Books Alive!” Washington Writers Conference on April 30, 2016. The following are her remarks.
For the last 40 years I’ve chosen to write biographies of people who are alive and influence our world. I’ve done this without their cooperation and independent of their demands and dictates. These people are not simply celebrities, but titans of society who have affected us as individuals and left an imprint on our culture, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
With each biography, the challenge has been to answer the question John F. Kennedy once posed: “What makes journalism so fascinating and biography so interesting is the struggle to answer that single question: ‘What’s he like?’”
I believe that the best way to find out is to tell a life story from the outside looking in, and so I choose to write with my nose pressed against the window rather than kneeling inside for spoon feedings.
Championing the independent or unauthorized biography might sound like a high-minded defense for a low-level pursuit, but I do not relish living in a world where information is authorized, sanitized and homogenized. I read banned books. I applaud whistleblowers. I reject any suppression by church or state. And I believe in freedom of the press. To me the unauthorized biography, which requires a combination of scholarly research and investigative reporting, is best directed at those figures, still alive, who exercise power over our lives.
In writing about contemporary figures, I’ve found that the unauthorized biography avoids the pureed truths of revisionist history, which is the pitfall of an authorized biography. Without being beholden to the subject or bending to editorial control, the unauthorized biographer is better able to penetrate the manufactured public image. For, to quote President Kennedy again, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
Despite my lofty defense of the unauthorized biography there’s no question that it exacts a price. The authorized biographer is often hailed as a white knight while the unauthorized biographer is usually demonized. It’s the difference between poodles and pit bulls. One is adored—the other avoided. Authorized biographers are like seraphim—the angels who stand to give praise. Unauthorized biographers are like what John Boehner recently called Ted Cruz. You can understand why I keep an old cowboy motto above my desk that says—“Tell the truth but ride a fast horse.”
I still dream about going to the same heaven as authorized biographers but I’m probably headed for whatever awaits the unanointed. I’m afraid I’ve toiled too long on the unauthorized side of the street to ever hear the angels sing. But this award for telling the truth and riding a fast horse will keep me galloping forward —with great pride.
Thank you very much.
(All photos by Bruce Guthrie.)
David O. Stewart, president and chair of the board, presented the award to Kitty Kelley.
Kitty Kelley with keynote speaker Bob Woodward.
Statement, ASJA Awards Presentation, April 24, 2014
On April 24, 2014, Kitty Kelley was presented with the Founders’ Award for Career Achievement by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) during a ceremony at the group’s 43rd annual writers’ conference in New York. The following are her remarks at the Awards Presentation.
My love affair with the American Society of Journalists and Authors began on September 21, 1983 when we were introduced by Frank Sinatra. That was the day he sued me for $2 million to keep me from writing his (decidedly unauthorized) biography. In court papers, he declared that he and he alone or someone that he authorized could write his life story. No one else was entitled to what he called his “right of publicity.”
ASJA immediately stepped forward and joined with other writers’ groups to protest Sinatra’s assault on the First Amendment. In a press conference, they said: “The apparent goal behind Sinatra’s filing of this suit is to scare Ms. Kelley away from her investigation and ultimately to force her to scrap the book.” They asserted that “the unauthorized or unblessed biography” is the essence of free speech and open commentary and declared that Sinatra’s lawsuit was an assault on all writers’ constitutionally protected freedom of expression and should be dismissed on its face.
This public stance stirred a great deal of publicity from outraged journalists, who wrote columns, editorials, and even a few cartoons. One of the funniest was drawn by Jules Feiffer, who showed a mug’s face under a snap-brim hat, swaying on skinny legs and snapping his fingers:
“I’m chairman of the Board. If some broad wantsa write a book about me… She gotta talk t’one of my boys who talks t’one of my other boys… who talks t’me. And MAYBE if the broad looks OK, I say, ‘Go Baby.’ Or Maybe I say ‘Shove it, Bimbo.’ And before she can write word one I sue her.
“So don’t give me any First Amendment crapola, I got the Frank Amendment and mine is bigger than hers. Ring a ding ding.”
After a year of litigation that cost me over $100,000 in legal fees, Sinatra finally dropped his lawsuit, but by then he had sent his message to my publisher and the rest of the world that he did not want the book written. Many people were too frightened to speak on the record, and some actually feared for their lives, but over the course of three years I managed to interview 800 people, including members of Sinatra’s family, his mistresses, co-stars, friends, neighbors, employees, FBI agents, a few antagonists, and a couple of mobsters.
In 1986 His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra was published, and– despite his threats– I lived to see the book become number one on the New York Times best seller list and sell more than 1 million copies in hardback. All very gratifying, but best of all was receiving ASJA’s Outstanding Author Award that year for “courageous writing on popular culture.”
Publication of the Frank Sinatra biography was a triumph for all non-fiction writers who struggle against immense pressure to find their way to examine the public figures who influence our society.
Thirty years ago ASJA made it possible for me to find my way– and for that I am profoundly grateful. I accept your award for Career Achievement because YOU made my career all it has been– and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
by Kitty Kelley
The Board of the American Society of Journalists and Authors has voted to give Kitty Kelley the Founders’ Award for Career Achievement. According to Minda Zetlin, President, ASJA, “The award goes to a member whose ability to tell a story and whose style, range, and diversity of career exemplify the profession of independent nonfiction writer.” The award will be presented at a ceremony in New York on April 24, 2014.
Let Freedom Ring and Capturing Camelot Awards
Let Freedom Ring and Capturing Camelot both won USA Best Book awards.
More information here.
Let Freedom Ring won in the History: United States category. Read reviews of Let Freedom Ring here.
Capturing Camelot won in the Gift & Specialty Books category. Read reviews of Capturing Camelot here.
Kitty Kelley’s Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of The Kennedys and Let Freedom Ring: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the March on Washington are available from Thomas Dunne Books in both hardcover and ebook formats.