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Literatures in English Research Guide

The following is intended as a general guide to research in literature.

Biographies and Interviews

Biographies give information about a person's life. For your purpose, the most useful type of biographies are critical biographies, which focus on an author's work and can help you better understand how it fits into an author's life. Perhaps even more usefully, they can help you understand the historical context of a work, and often include information about its reception when it was published. 

Author interviews are an important resource, especially for contemporary authors.  These are also useful for understanding context and for making connections between the work in question and ideas expressed in it. 

Interview Resources

Author's Website

Authors often include links to notable interviews on their websites.

Biography Resources

Short Biographies
Longer Biographies
Book-Length Biographies

Interviews with Authors

Why Interviews?

Interviews are very important resources when you are interested in contemporary authors.

In interviews, authors will often:

  • Explain why a work is significant to them
  • Describe how the work was written
  • Elucidate their thoughts on issues that arise within the text

You may be able to use this information as further evidence that certain events or ideas are important. Interviews may also provide context for the work.  

Finally, for contemporary works, there may not be much criticism yet, so interviews are often your best resource. 

Searching for Interviews

It depends on what kind of interview you need!

Newspapers, popular magazines, and radio shows often publish interviews. However, these are often brief and not as interesting as the longer interviews you will find in scholarly journals or similar publications. Brief interviews of this sort are likely to turn up in Literature Resource Center, in media outlets like NPR, and on the open web generally. 

Literary experts conduct longer, more interesting interviews. These can also sometimes be found on the web, but you should also check JSTORProjectMuse, and Artemis Literary Sources.

Video interviews are especially interesting because they include the author's voice and body language.  Some are included in VAST, a subscription streaming video service, but YouTube can be a useful resource as well.  

Researching Biographies of Authors

Using Biographies

Why might you consult a biography?

Getting the facts right. It's possible you just want to reference a few facts about the author. A short biography is best for this purpose.

Reception studies.Biographies will often provide information about the reception of author's works.

Historical Context.If you are interested in positioning a work historically, a biography can be a good place to start.  Here, longer or book-length biographies are likely to be useful. 

Biographical Analysis. Maybe your primary interest is analyzing a work in view of the author's life. While there are many other ways to approach a literary work, this can sometimes be fruitful. It's probably a good idea to consult many different biographies, including book-length ones, if this is the case.