Glossary Home Genre


A biography is an account or description of a person’s life, literary, fictional, historical, or popular in nature, written by a biographer.

Depending on the biography, it can consist of simple, direct facts such as those anyone can get access to. This would include information about a person’s birth, family, and family history. There would also be information about a person’s education, friendships, and defining life events and relationships. Other biographies focus on one period of a person’s life, usually one that was particularly important in the wider history of their life.

If a writer has special access to the person they’re writing about, information about that person, or contacts that knew that person, one biography might be more personal and intimate than another.

All the information in a biography is usually conveyed in chronological order. Although it is not unusual for the book to start with an important moment and then go back in time, tracing the person’s important life events.


Types of Biographies


There are several different kinds of biographies that fall under the larger category of “biography”. These include historical biography, fictional, literary, reference, and popular. Fictional biography is one of the most creative. It tells the story of a fictional character as if they were a real person. Examples include The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov and Nate Tate by William Boyd.


Examples of Biographies

Example #1 Orlando by Virginia Woolf

This book is one of the best examples of fictional biography. It was published in October of 1928 and tells the story of a poet who changes sex from a man to a woman and lives a lifetime over centuries.


Example #2 Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White

Alice Walker: A Life is a wonderful example of a traditional literary biography. It traces the life and accomplishments of the activist and author of The Color Purple Alice Walker.



An autobiography is the largest of the categories. This is is the story of someone’s life written by the person who lived it. Sometimes the writer will need assistance from a  ghostwriter, or a professional writer who helps them get the writing in order while they provide the information. There are many different kinds of autobiographies. Some, such as David Copperfield by Charles Dickens are semi-autobiographical or include characters and events that closely mirror the events of a writer’s life.


Example of an Autobiography

The Diary of a Young Girls by Anne Frank

This slightly unusual autobiography is a compilation of personal writings from the young Anne Frank in Dutch. It was written during the period that Anne and her family were in hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. While she died in 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, her diary was retried and published. It has since been translated into more than 60 languages.


Example of a Semi-Autobiographical Novel: Burmese Days by George Orwell

In this book, Orwell takes a look at his life through the story of a fictional character in a very real place that the writer knew well. It is set in 1920s British Burma and follows John Flory. The novel was inspired by the time that Orwell spent in the Indian Imperial Police in the same region, between 1922 and 1927.



A memoir is similar to an autobiography as it is written by the person whose life it is about. But, a memoir focuses on memories rather than life facts. it might take a narrower view, focusing only on one period of time with a particular intent.


Example of a Memoir

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

This famous memoir was published in 1995 long before Obama became president of the United Staes or even before he was elected to the Illinois senate. He recounts his upbringing and how it set him apart from his contemporaries.

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