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Author Biographies

The purpose of this page is to aid in obtaining biographical information about authors, past and present. Information includes print resources, websites, databases and links to other Internet Public Library pages. It is intended to give you starting points in your search to find more about your author's life, works or current contact information.

Getting Started

Finding biographical information on authors can be either very easy or frustratingly difficult. While much is written about the very famous, locating a biography on a less famous author can be challenging. Finding anything on the obscure or new writer can be as difficult as solving a murder mystery. Unless you absolutely know otherwise, the best initial strategy to take is to assume your author is famous enough to be found without too much difficulty.

Reference Books

Please note that all print volumes will have the Dewey Decimal (D) and Library of Congress (LC) call numbers cited.

Contemporary Authors - D: 809.04 Co ; LC: Z1224 .C77 - Publisher: Detroit, MI, Gale Research Co.
A series which is an excellent place to start. As its name implies, this massive set of books mainly covers authors who wrote in the twentieth-century.

Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography - D: R 810.9 Co ; LC: PS 129 .C66 - Publisher: Detroit, MI, Gale Research Co.
Contains listings for authors throughout American history.

The Dictionary of Literary Biography - D: 828 Br ; LC: Z1224 .C77 - Publisher: Detroit, MI, Gale Research Co.
Includes authors from many time periods. It covers the literatures of a wide selection of nations and regions.

Something About the Author - D: 028.5 So ; LC: PN 451 .S68 - Publisher: Detroit, MI, Gale Research Co.
This provides nice biographies and treatment of children's authors. Check at your local library to see if they own any of these sets, which are likely to be located in the reference section of the library. There is also available a version of this title with autobiographies.

Index to Literary Biography, by Patricia Pate Havlice - D: R 809 Ha; LC: Z6511 .H39 - Publisher: Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow Press, 1983
A quick reference tool for locating biographical information for 68,000 authors from antiquity to the 1980's including pseudonyms.

Authors Critical and Biographical References, 2nd Ed., by Richard E. Combs and Nancy R. Owens - D: R 809 Co; LC: Z6511 .C66 - Publisher: Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow Press, 1993
Extensive listing of authors and where they are referenced for critical or biography.

Fantasy and Horror, Neil Barron, Ed. - D: R 809.387 Fa; LC: Z6514 .F35 F351 - Publisher: Lanham, Maryland, Scarecrow Press, 1999
A critical and historical guide to literature, illustration, film, TV, and the internet for this particular genre. This large volume contains a listing of references, both on- and off-line.

Further Searching in Books

Your library may own other books or materials on author biography. Check with library staff for assistance. Check the shelves around the call numbers listed for the references above. If your library uses the Dewey Decimal Classification, you can look for these books and others like them at the following numbers:

928 Persons in literature

920 General biography (often author biographies can be found in collections that cover persons from all occupations)

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Electronic Resources

More and more author biographies are appearing on the Internet. Most of the information is not compiled by a single person or organization; instead each author's page tends to be written by someone different, so the information available can vary tremendously from author to author. Coverage is still fairly erratic. Some but certainly not all "famous" authors can be found. The Internet holds great potential as a resource on very new authors as both publishers and authors begin to use this medium to promote books by beginning authors.

Subscription Databases

Subscription databases are electronic but cannot be accessed freely from the Internet. Most libraries provide free access for patrons to at least some databases, so make sure you ask at your local library which ones, if any, are available to you and what forms of access you have. The following list contains just a brief selection of databases that might be useful for finding author biographies. Ask your librarians for recommendations of additional sources you might be able to use.

Gale's Literary Index

This index lets you search it by author or by title. Using this index can save you from having to look through tons of reference books at your library, since you'll know exactly what books (and what page numbers) will be helpful to you. All of the Gale Research reference books listed above are available through this service and it may contain more updated listings.

Biography and Genealogy Master Index

Per the Gale Group, this database is a first stop index tool for learning where to look for biographical material on people from all time periods, geographical locations and fields of endeavor. It acts as an index to other indexes.

Ingenta

A comprehensive collection of academic and professional publications available for online, fax and Ariel delivery. This site has a good search engine to find magazine articles.

Wilson Web

You'll need to visit your local library to access this database but it may be worth the trouble if none of these other options works. It has a very powerful search engine and results in biographies, photos and a complete listing of author's works.

xrefer

This unique reference search engine allows the user to search the full text of several reference books, including a number of biographical dictionaries and literary encyclopedias. Not every author will be listed, and some of the biographies are brief, though.

Free Websites

Authors Calendar - Index to Authors - http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/indeksi.htm
An extensive collection of biographies compiled by a public library in Finland (in English).

Author Yellow Pages - http://www.authoryellowpages.com
Authors formed this listing of their webpages and publisher pages. It is not a comprehensive list but maybe a good place to start looking.

The Author Guru Is In - http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/4617/authormail.html

Kid's Authors - http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/4617/agkidspage.html
A personal site which provides both email and postal addresses for authors. It does have popups.

Amazon.com - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/recent-interviews/4106-0030401-296324
This huge on-line retail book store has a section of author interviews. If that doesn't help, you may be able to find a work by the author in question and find out their publisher and how to contact them.

Biography.com - http://www.biography.com/
The television station runs a search engine and database on their website which may be helpful. There is a large category for writers of over 5,000 entries.

DMOZ - The Open Directory Project - http://dmoz.org/Arts/Literature/Authors/

This huge database is staffed by volunteer editors and is open for anyone to add a link. Therefore the information found may not be as scholarly as some of the other options on this page but makes up for this with volume. There were 11,470 links under this category when this link was added.

Google - http://directory.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/
Google's Directory for the Arts and Literature links to information about a large number of authors. These are organized by genre (type of writing). Within a number of the categories, author web sites are indexed by the first letter of their last name.

Nobel Prize Internet Archive - http://www.almaz.com/
If you just want to check out who won the Nobel Prize in Literature and need nothing more than birth and death dates plus a list of the author's works, then this site is for you.

If none of these links are helpful, try searching the web with search engines like Google (http://www.google.com/) or Alta Vista (http://www.altavista.com/), or search another direction like Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com/). Input the author's name and see if they have their own website.

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More tips for locating elusive authors

So you've checked all the resources listed above and still have nothing. What next?

  • Their Books - Often the jacket, the beginning pages, or the ending pages of the book will have a brief biography of the author. The initial publication date or copyright date can also help you to find out how long ago the book was written and thus place your author in time.
  • Their Publisher - Check their books for their publisher's name. The sites listed below have contact information for many major publishing companies. Frequently publishers are willing to serve as intermediaries and will forward your correspondence to the author.
    • ACQWEB's Directory of Publishers and Vendors - http://acqweb.library.vanderbilt.edu/acqweb/pubr.html#subj
      AcqWeb is a sister publication of ACQNET and is a gathering place for librarians and other professionals interested in acquisitions and collection development. It maintains this comprehensive list as well as a listing of email contact information.
    • International School for Advanced Studies - http://www.sissa.it/library/publishers.html
      This school in Italy maintains a long listing of publishers which may lean a little towards the scientific.
  • Their place of birth or current residence - If the town mentioned is not too large, chances are good that the local library, museum, or historical society (if the author lived long ago) would have some information on the author. To find these organizations:
    • BigBook - http://www.bigbook.com/ - Check in a yellow pages guide like this on-line versions which allows searching by yellow-page category.
    • LibWeb - http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Libweb/ - If you are looking for a local library, you might also want to try a library directory such as this which indexes public and academic libraries around the world.
  • Their local newspaper - Local institutions in the area where the author currently lives or was born may also have articles or reviews of the book. If the book was recently released, you may want to check on the Internet to see if the town's newspaper might be available online. You can check the IPL's Newspaper collection - http://www.ipl.org/div/news - for websites of currently published papers. If you cannot find the paper online, check with your local library to see how you can access these local newspapers.
  • Magazines - They may include reviews or interviews with the author. To find out if there is an article in a magazine, you'll need to search a periodical index first. Your local library will have access to these, either in paper, CD-ROM, or online. See the Ingenta and Amazon links above to start.

Related IPL References

The Internet Public Library has many references that may be helpful in your search for author biographies.

Authors - http://www.ipl.org/div/subject/browse/hum60.10.00/
A page of links to helpful sites under the Arts & Humanities, Literature subject heading.

Authors Biographies - http://www.ipl.org/div/subject/browse/ref15.06.00/
Another page of links to under the Reference, Biographies subject heading dealing specifically with biographies.

Online Literary Criticism Pathfinder - http://www.ipl.org/div/pf/entry/48496
This large reference page has many reference and links to writings about authors' works.

Literary Criticism Special Collection - http://www.ipl.org/div/litcrit/
An extraordinary listing of criticisms by author's name and period.

Online Literary Criticism Guide - http://www.ipl.org/div/litcrit/guide.html
More listings by many varied categories which may aid you in your search for author information.

African American Authors - http://www.ipl.org/div/afam.html
A large pathfinder with specialized information about authors.

Native American Authors - http://www.ipl.org/div/natam/
A growing listing of Native American authors, works by title and listings by tribe.

IPL Frequently Asked Reference Questions - http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/
Check out the section on Books and Libraries.

You may not think that these are age-appropriate for you but they have some great links:

Kidspace Authors Page - http://www.ipl.org/div/kidspace/askauthor/

Teenspace Authors page - http://www.ipl.org/div/teen/browse/bw1000/

This pathfinder created by Christine Johnson and revised by Barbara Scanlon in 2004.