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Northeastern Humanities Center

February 4, 2010

Yesterday, my friend Paul and I sat around a wooden table with other biographers at a monthly meeting for Humanities Fellows convened by Carla Kaplan, a writer, whose work on Zora Neale Hurston I admire. Also, she is very funny. She says she has enormous self-discipline but the focus of her six week old puppy. I said that I had a similar problem. Anyways, there was a lively discussion about footnotes and speculation: Do you always have to use footnotes in a biography? how much is too much speculation? There was a general consensus that footnotes are essential. Well, it was not exactly a consensus as I was silent. I HATE footnotes, or really, I should say, endnotes. I scribble messages to myself while I am writing, like “See p137 in Todd.” Six months from now I will have to revisit Todd p137 and I will have no idea who Todd is. There are Other Ways to write biographies, of this I am sure, but I am too anxious to get the story down to do my citations properly in the first draft of a ms, so they hang over my head, not like one axe, but like many, too many to count. Plus, I have noticed that Alison Weir does not use endnotes in her biography of Queen Elizabeth. All she does is list her sources at the end. Why can’t I do this?

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