I guess it goes without saying that biographies are always going to be written about people who have already gained a certain amount of renown; otherwise nobody would be interested in reading about the person. If we already know about a person because what they have done has gained them sufficient recognition to have a biography written about them, what are we looking for when we read their biography?
There is always going to be an audience for the "tell-all" biography that does its best to diminish its subject matter, but those books are more self-serving exercises on the part of their authors to obtain their own notoriety, rather than to give a true accounting of a person's life. Although I'm sure that, on some level, wanting to find out if a person's private face matches their public image will always be part of the motivation for reading a biography, most of us are looking to gain deeper insights into the people who have sparked our interest for one reason or another.
How did they develop into the person deserving of a biography? If they were a musician, when did they begin playing and who were their influences, for example? Was there some moment in their life which brought about a revelation that set them on the path that would lead them to fame? In order to sate his audience's desire for answers to these sorts of questions, the author of a biography will have to have done extensive research into his subject matter, and be able to convince his or her audience that they know what they are talking about.
David King Dunaway received the first Ph.D in American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in folklore, history, and literature. He is the author of a half dozen books of history and biography, specializing in the presentation of folklore, literature, and history via broadcasting. He has also created a number of radio broadcasts and documentaries on such topics as Route 66. Across The Tracks: A Route 66 Story is a three part radio show on the influence of this famous cross country highway on America's literary and artistic culture.
However, his main focus for the last thirty years has been documenting the life and work of Pete Seeger. In 1981 he published a preliminary version of a biography of Pete, and this year, a new definitive edition of How Can I Keep From Singing? The Ballad Of Pete Seeger has been re-issued by Random House Canada through their Villard Books imprint. In the twenty-seven years since the book's original publication, Dr. Dunaway has delved deeper into the life of Pete Seeger in order to substantiate what he had in the first edition. He also, to quote Mr. Seeger, "spent many days going over each page" of the original publication with Pete, fixing mistakes that Pete had found in the original book.