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Writing biography is often layered in its telling with long lapses of time between research and writing. Of necessity, the perspectives of the biographer change during that time. This article explores the challenges of writing on a living writer, with or without their approval, then writing on the same author, but after their death. Many relationships are made or re-made in such a process. How is the interpretation of new literary evidence, or the selective decisions made about its inclusion, influenced by a biographer having a kindly ‘keeper’ – a supportive literary estate – rather than a hostile one? This article considers that question. What emerges is the story of how license affects not just access to archival material, or to individuals' key to the story, but how support from a literary estate enables the writing of the biography itself. It offers the biographer special freedoms: the chance to stretch interpretation, to experiment with style, and the opportunity to conjure a subject's personality in full – without risking offence. Most importantly, a ‘kindly keeper’ liberates a biographer in unexpected personal ways, affording the privilege of sharing a family's most intimate dynamics as well as contributing rich nuanced understandings of their own life's challenges.


School of Arts

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Journal Article

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