Justin Kaplan, 13th Annual ODU Literary Festival


Justin Kaplan

Document Type

Featured Participant

Festival Date



Hampton-Newport News Room, Webb Center; Mills Godwin Auditorium

Author/Artist Bio

Justin Kaplan once said, "I'm drawn to people whose lives have a certain mystery--mysteries that aren't going to be solved, that are too sacred to be solved". As an award-winning biographer, Kaplan has been drawn to some of the great, mysterious literary figures of our time, in particular Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. In 1967 he won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, a biography in which he said he attempted "not only to explore the mystery of this man but also to respect it...Two currents flowed through his life. One flowed away from Hannibal, Missouri, toward a world of wealth, fame and materialities. The other flowed back to Hannibal again. Out of the opposition of these currents, out of the turbulent dark waters, came one of the great styles and dazzling personalities of our literature." Clearly, Kaplan, has written the definitive life story of one of America's legendary figures. In 1981 he wrote the biography of another American legend and received the American Book Award for Walt Whitman: A Life. Kaplan's biographies have been praised for their narrative skill and historical breadth, for having the power and hypnotic effect of good novels. His books are artful, sentence by sentence, unraveling legends and leaving a fascinating truth in their place. He has also written a biography of Lincoln Steffens and has been editor of half a dozen other works. For the past two years he has been working as editor of the 16th edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.


Justin Kaplan was part of the panel discussion on the art of writing biography on Thursday, October 4, at 11:00 a.m. in the Hampton-Newport News Room in Webb Center.

That evening at 8:00 p.m. in Mills Godwin Auditorium he spoke about the making of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, a fitting finale for a festival of words.


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