Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

Sample Entries:

Here are some entries you might want to look at as examples of successfully completed third assignments:

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by Tom Kane and John Unsworth

In the LibGuide on 20th-Century American Bestsellers, you will find suggested sources that you can use in research for this assignment. Remember that you need to keep a list of all sources consulted, with an indication of their usefulness for your assignment. Useful sources should be listed at the end of your entry; the entire list (useful and useless) needs to be submitted to the instructor when the assignment is turned in. Keeping such a log will also be useful as you proceed with your research, as it will help you to be sure that you have checked the appropriate sources, and it will help you to avoid accidental plagiarism.

For this assignment, you need to research the biographical facts of your author's life, and arrange those facts in a coherent essay of up to 500 words (roughly two double-spaced pages). There are two somewhat different possibile scenarios for this assignment, and different instructions go with them:

1: First Entry on an Author. If yours is the first entry in the bestsellers database to present a biographical sketch of your author, then you should provide an overview of the author's life. At a minimum, such an overview should include:

  • date of birth
  • nationality
  • gender
  • place of birth
  • current or last residence
  • family history (parents, spouses, children)
  • educational history
  • age at first publication
  • agents and editors
  • other publications
  • date, cause, and place of death (if applicable)
  • location of author's papers, if any
You should also look at the questions suggested under 2, below, since many of them could apply to a first entry as well.

2: Subsequent Entry on an Author. If your author has already appeared in the database, then you should do a more detailed biographical sketch of the period during which your author wrote the book you are studying, and you should also present and explain any biographical details from other periods of the author's life that are particularly pertinent to this book. Questions you might address in an entry of this sort include:

  • How might the events of the months or years surrrounding the production of this book have shaped its content?
  • Are there major events in the author's formative years that contributed to this novel? How?
  • Where does the novel fit in the author's career as a whole?
  • Does this novel have a significant impact on the author's subsequent career and/or reputation?
  • Were there any interesting legal, commercial, or personal events associated with the publication of this novel?
  • Did the publication of this novel mark the beginning or end of a relationship between the author and an editor or a publishing house?
  • Were there significant performances in other media for this book, and did those performances involve the author in any way?

Even though you are not responsible for providing an overview in a subsequent entry, you should begin by reading the biographical sketches in any previous entries, in order to avoid repetition and correct errors. If the information in the earlier entry is inaccurate or out of date, then you should point that out in your entry, and include corrected or updated information.

3: Citation Format: Use the form of citation described in the MLA Handbook, available at Alderman Reference (LB2369 .M52 2016), or on Amazon.

Consult multiple sources for biographical information, and take care to keep notes that clearly indicate what is quoted, where it came from, and what is your own original thinking. Be aware that if you reproduce someone else's ideas or arguments, whether in the original words or in paraphrase, you need to clearly identify those ideas and arguments and their source. Failure to declare such use of sources constitutes plagiarism.

Plagiarism: This is the first database assignment in the course where you are being asked to write sentences and paragraphs that express ideas and mount arguments rather than reporting facts. It is also the first assignment in which there is a good chance you will find a complete example of the work you are being asked to do in one place, in one reference work or scholarly book. Facts ("The author's mother died in childbirth") cannot be plagiarized, but the conclusions drawn from them in the form of ideas and arguments ("and this had a lifelong impact on his work") can be. Plagiarism is considered "academic fraud" at the University of Virginia, under the Honor Code.

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