12 Must-Read Biographies About Your Favorite Authors

by Melissa Ragsdale
Public Domain

Sometimes it feels like the authors of our favorite books are the only ones who truly know us. But how much do you really know about your favorite author? Picking up a biography of a famous author is a thrilling way to engage with the person holding the pen.

We often put authors on pedestals, painting them in our mind as god-like beings with full knowledge of the world and its beauties and horrors. But my favorite thing about reading literary biographies is how humanizing they are. It's so exciting to discovers connections between myself and the authors that I love so dearly. So often an author's real life is filled with unexpected elements that are even more fascinating than the image I had of them. As a reader and especially as an aspiring writer, it is so meaningful for me to be able to connect with my favorite authors in this way.

Plus, reading about an author's life is sure to throw a fresh light on their work, giving you a keen perspective on the choices they made in their writing, and why their writing was so provocative at the time it was published.

From Jane Austen to Shirley Jackson, you can learn everything about your favorite authors from these fantastic literary biographies:

'Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston' by Valerie Boyd

In this fascinating read, journalist Valerie Boyd explores Zora Neale Hurston's life: her youth in the country's first incorporated all-black town; her friendships with literary icons like Langston Hughes; her mysterious relationship with vodou, and more.

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'Virginia Woolf' by Hermione Lee

There are a lot of biographies floating around about literary queen Virginia Woolf, but this one is a must-read. Taking every layer of Woolf's complicated life into account — from her sexual abuse to her literary achievements — Lee paints a remarkable portrait that will add a new layer to the experience of reading her writing.

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'Every Love Story is a Ghost Story' by D.T. Max

The life and death of David Foster Wallace has fascinated his readers for years. In this biography, Max explores Wallace's hard-fought battles against depression and addiction and follows the writer through his journey to complete his masterpiece: Infinite Jest.

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'Jane Austen at Home: A Biography' by Lucy Worsley

Is there any greater pleasure than diving into the world of Jane Austen? Released to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Austen's death in 2017, this book is a unique exploration of Austen that seemingly disproves the widely held belief that she lived a "life without incident."

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'The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury' by Sam Weller

I personally find Ray Bradbury's life immensely intriguing, and you will too when you read this biography. Weller spent hundreds of hours interviewing Bradbury, as well as the people in his life, in order to produce this eye-opening read.

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'The Brontë Myth' by Lucasta Miller

There is so much to explore when it comes to the lives of the three Brontë sisters. Miller does an exquisite job of separating fact from fiction when it comes to the much-hyped about lives of these extraordinary sisters.

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'J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography' by Humphrey Carter

Every Lord of the Rings fan has got to get their hands on this biography. With unrestricted access to Tolkien's writings, friends, and family, Carpenter details the legendary author's life in extraordinary ways.

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'Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’ Connor' by Brad Gooch

This biography of Southern Gothic writer Flannery O'Connor will change the way you view her and her work. The book particularly focuses on O'Connor's many friendships, as told through the letters she wrote and received from them.

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'Shakespeare' by Peter Ackroyd

Of course, there is a ton of research and speculation on William Shakespeare's life and work. This biography explores Shakespeare's personal life, professional career, struggles as a writer, and gives readers an in-depth look at the time and place in which Shakespeare lived.

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'James Baldwin: A Biography' by David A. Leeming

It's impossible to separate James Baldwin's life from his writing, so readers won't want to miss this chance to learn more about the circumstances — including his difficult childhood in New York City, his experiences with racism, his eternal, internal quest for selfhood — that influenced Baldwin's work.

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'The Life of Langston Hughes' by Arnold Rampersad

Reading about Langston Hughes's incredible life will provide you with fascinating insight into his beloved poetry. From his travels throughout Mexico, Africa, the Soviet Union, Japan and beyond, to his integral role in the Harlem Renaissance, his life experiences influenced his writings in more ways than meets the eye.

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'Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector' by Benjamin Moser

This captivating biography of Latin American author Clarice Lispector is one not to be missed. Benjamin Moser draws on manuscripts and interviews to illuminate the complex world of Lispector, and how her personal history — her childhood in war-torn Ukraine, her immigration to Brazil, and her injury that left her in constant pain for the last 10 years of her life — shaped her unique writing.

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'Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life' by Ruth Franklin

Ruth Franklin's award-winning biography takes readers on a journey through the complicated life of one of America's finest horror writers: Shirley Jackson. Through her writings, Jackson was able to explore the cultural landscape of post-war America, especially focusing on the role of women. As a working woman and a mother, this was an anxiety Jackson felt acutely. The biography explores her career, her internal struggles, and her turbulent marriage with New Yorker critic Stanley Hyman.

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