20 Great Biographies of Famous Authors

There’s always something exciting about reading a literary figure’s memoir, learning the details of their personal life (those they’re willing to share, anyway) and getting a glimpse into their creative process. But it’s perhaps more illuminating to read an outsider’s account of a literary great, assembled from years of reporting and sifting through private papers. A literary biography might not be as sensational as, say, the life story of a doomed Hollywood starlet (although certainly a fair number of novelists, playwrights, and poets have lived turbulent lives), but they do offer a complete picture that shatters the fourth walls of our favorite writers’ work. Here’s a collection of great bios that accomplish just that.

anne sexton

Anne Sexton: A Biography, Diane Wood Middlebrook

Middlebrook’s biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton was controversial — it exposed several of Sexton’s secrets, culled from tapes of her psychiatric sessions — but it paints a complete portrait of a fractured personality.