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This presentation arose out of two parallel tracks: the desire to novelize my own feminist biography of Elizabeth Robins and the awareness -- especially made acute in the essay on Emma Tennant's two treatments of the Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes material by Diane Middlebrook, "Misremembering Ted Hughes" -- that for a novelist to base fiction on historical subjects risks not merely critical exposure; it also has its ethical and sometimes legal complications.

Anyone of a certain age remembers or can mark the impact of Milford's study of Zelda Fitzgerald, published 1970, the finalist in several book awards and scores of weeks on best seller lists. It likely focused a quite a number of graduate students' projects which later turned into dissertations and published biographies-- and thus marks an important shift in recognizing many women considered lesser figures deserved biographies of their own. I vaguely remember a lawsuit or challenge to material on the first tv dramatization of the Fitzgeralds' lives, entitled Zelda. I vaguely remember a lawsuit or challenge to material on the first tv dramatization of the Fitzgeralds' lives, entitled Zelda (a TNT original with Natasha Richardson). Dispute over particularized sources or whether first biographers ever get screen credits may seem quaint, now that Therese Anne Fowler's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald is claimed as source for the Amazon Prime-s 10-part drama, Z the Beginning of Everything.

The presentation enumerates several recent trends, including the Paula McLain treatments of two Hemingway wives and Beryl Markham, as well as Susan Wittig Albert's appropriating of the academic work on Rose Wilder for her novelized A Wilder Rose (2013). I am interested in how novelists credit their sources, how biographers sometimes slip into novelization, and where the adaptations assign credit. Recent novelizations of Harriet Tubman's and Belle La Costa Greene's lives will look at uncovering important pasts of African Americans, also a focus in The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, which incorporated the important mixed-race heritage of the Grimke family.

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Handouts were made available to the panel attendees at the time of this virtual conference, November 2021. The material is otherwise not previously published.

GatesBibAbstractNovelizingFeministBiography.pdf (149 kB)
Bibliography Resources for the PowerPoint Presentation, Novelizing the Feminist Biography