Partners and Associates
Founding partner KATE BUFORD is the author of Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe (Knopf, 2010), the award-winning New York Times Editors’ Choice biography of the greatest multi-sport athlete at the dawn of American organized sports. She also wrote the New York Times Editors’ Choice best-seller Burt Lancaster: An American Life (Knopf, 2000), the story of one of Hollywood’s great stars and the indie producer who changed the way movies were made. A Californian come east, Kate earned an MS in information/library science at Columbia, worked as a law librarian on Wall Street (Cravath; Davis Polk; Willkie Farr), a vp at the NYC global corporate communications firm of Finsbury, a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition and APM’s Marketplace, and contributor to many publications, television shows, and documentaries. She is also the author of two privately-published books: a centennial history of the Ardsley Country Club, in Ardsley-on-Hudson, New York; and the story of a Virginia family’s years in Colombia, first in the Peace Corps and then managing a cattle farm. She serves on the board of Biographers International Organization, Union Settlement Association in East Harlem, New York City and the Blue Ridge United Nations Association of USA. (photo: Robert Curtis)
Kate’s love of stories and narrative began with reading her first chapter book in 5th grade (Little Women), after which she devoured books as fuel for life. When she was finished growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and living in Ireland, Paris, Germany, and Manhattan, she settled down in Charlottesville, Virginia to apply lessons learned to the craft of biography: how and why people and organizations create, work, live and shape their world. Her training and practice as a research librarian turned out to be perfect prep for narrative nonfiction and storytelling. She knows that there’s a source somewhere for anything you want to know.
Founding partner ABIGAIL SANTAMARIA is the author of Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), a biography of the communist poet Joy Davidman, perhaps best known today for being portrayed by Debra Winger in the Oscar-nominated film, Shadowlands. Abby earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and worked for years as a researcher for biographers including Susan Hertog’s Dangerous Ambition: Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West: New Women in Search of Love and Power (Ballantine Books, 2011), and New York Times best-seller Charles J. Shields’ And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012), among other authors. She has contributed articles to numerous publications and is based in New York City. Abby’s next book, I Am Meg: The Life of Madeleine L’Engle, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Abby’s passion for narrative nonfiction storytelling began with a paper on the weather phenomenon of blizzards for a high school meteorology class. She researched and wrote the true tale of a group of people stranded at a train station during one of the worst snow storms of the nineteenth century, and then wove the requisite meteorological information into her paper. That was the first and only time she ever earned an A in a math or science course. Abby expanded her love of storytelling as an undergraduate at Elon University, where she interviewed child survivors of the Holocaust for an oral history series. These experiences–fed by a determination to honor people’s stories, an insatiable curiosity and a dedication to accuracy–paved the way for a diversifying career in narrative nonfiction writing and research.
BIOGRAPHY BY DESIGN began with a friendship in 2010. Kate was finishing Native American Son and Abby had begun writing Joy when the two met in Boston at the first-ever conference of Biographers International Organization (BIO). In the sea of eager biographers they bonded over a mordant sense of humor and a shared passion for the genre of narrative nonfiction, especially the craft of researching and writing life stories.
As the years went on they finished their books, worked together as panelists, moderators and committee co-chairs at subsequent BIO conferences, co-created an annual award honoring archivists and research librarians — and grew a professional and personal friendship. Abby had a baby boy (Jasper), Kate became a grandmother (Kevin and Ryan) and their immersion in the richness of real life only deepened their fascination with why and how people and organizations do what they do.
In the fall of 2015, Abby and Kate found themselves in the same place of mapping out next career steps and discussing potential new projects. The idea was floated to join forces once again, this time combining their formidable skills and networks to build an exciting business, the first of its kind, making their storytelling passion and prowess accessible to all.
London associate Humphrey Keenlyside has been writing nonfiction for 25 years, and probably longer if you count his time before that as a journalist and as a lawyer. He takes the view that everyone has an interesting story to tell. Most of his writing is now done for law firms, and he has developed a particular skill for interviewing lawyers and capturing in words the individual culture and differentiating facets of law firms. He has written personality profiles on websites, for internal purposes and for alumni publications. More substantially, he is the author of five law firm histories – two for Allen & Overy (Allen & Overy: The Firm; and A&O at 75), for Linklaters (Passing the Flame), for Watson, Farley & Williams (The Spirit of Enterprise) and for White & Case (1901-2016: the First 100 Years & Beyond). A sixth one will soon be published.
He has also written two family biographies. The first was the life story of his father-in-law, a diplomat who travelled the world and whose work was dominated by the Cold War. The second was of the mother of his former boss, who told the story of her life and that of her husband through the whole of the 20th century.
When not penning words, Humphrey is often to be found on the sports field or taking exercise in some form. He has passed on the importance of the written word – and his love of music – to his two sons.
Associate Barbara Burkhardt is currently writing a biography of Garrison Keillor, under contract with St. Martin’s Press. She is also the author of William Maxwell: A Literary Life (U. of Illinois Press, 2008), about The New Yorker magazine fiction editor and novelist. Over a period of ten years, Maxwell answered Barbara’s questions on his clattering Coronamatic while she sat at his side—and he would turn the typewriter stand around on its squeaky wheels so she could read his responses. The biography won widespread praise from The New York Times to The [London] Times. The Chicago Tribune named it one of the best books of 2005, calling it a “most distinguished . . . brilliant biography” with “deeply layered, supple, and clear prose.” As a follow-up, Barbara edited Conversations with William Maxwell (U. of Mississippi Press, 2012), a compilation of Maxwell’s interviews and speeches, which includes the full transcript of her interviews with him.
Earlier, Barbara served as Director of Major Gifts at the University of Illinois’s Springfield campus. Her enjoyable work with donors often included helping tell their stories of giving—how their philanthropy became an important part of their life’s mission. She also worked in marketing for a large financial institution, writing annual reports, chairman’s communications to shareholders, and corporate newsletters.
Barbara received her Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and was an associate professor of English at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she was named the University Scholar in 2007. For six years, she served on the University of Illinois Press Board. She now lives in Washington, D.C. and is a member of the executive board of Biographer’s International Organization (BIO).
Associate Robin Rausch is a music reference specialist and researcher at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., a position she has held for close to 30 years. She is a contributing author to The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition, (Oxford University Press, 2013), Women in the Arts: Eccentric Essays in Music, Visual Arts, and Literature (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), and American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States (Library of Congress, 2002). At the Library she curated the exhibitions Chamber Music: The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (2015-16), A Century of Creativity: The MacDowell Colony 1907-2007 (2007), and Take Me Out to the Ballgame: A Celebration of Baseball in Song (1991). With an interest in women’s roles in the cultural history of the United States, Robin has written and lectured extensively on the history of the MacDowell Colony, including a colony history written for the commemorative centennial publication A Place for the Arts: the MacDowell Colony, 1907-2007 (The MacDowell Colony, 2006). She has twice been a featured guest on BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week program, speaking on the history of the MacDowell Colony and women composers from the colony. Robin is a member of Biographers International Organization, the Music Library Association, the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres, and the Society for American Music.
Jessie Chaffee is the author of the novel Florence in Ecstasy (Unnamed Press, 2017), which explores the contemporary issue of women’s identities as informed by the writing, lives, and legacies of the Italian mystical saints. She was awarded a 2014–2015 Fulbright Grant to Italy to complete the novel, during which time she was writer-in-residence at Florence University of the Arts. Jessie received her BA in the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University and her MFA in fiction at The City College of New York. Her fiction and nonfiction has been published in The Rumpus, Bluestem, Global City Review, Big Bridge, and The Sigh Press, among others. (Photo credit: Heather Waraksa)
Jessie is currently an editor at Words Without Borders, an online magazine of international literature in translation. Previously she taught at The City College of New York and The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine, and she served as managing editor of several literary journals. She lives in New York City.
Based in Los Angeles, Holly Van Leuven is an author of nonfiction, a researcher, and a publisher. Holly graduated Co-Valedictorian of her class at Emerson College, where she earned her BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing. She has worked for several nonfiction publishers including Perseus Books Group, Birch Books, the MIT Press, and Harvard Education Press.
In March 2019 Oxford University Press published her biography, Ray Bolger: More than a Scarecrow. Holly conducted seven years of original research to tell the lost story of the twentieth-century entertainer, best remembered for playing the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. For her work on Ray Bolger, Holly earned the inaugural Biographers International Organization’s Hazel Rowley Prize for first-time authors. She is also an active nonfiction book reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Having worked as a published author and a publisher, Holly has a keen awareness of what is entailed to produce quality works of nonfiction for both trade and scholarly publishers, and how to promote them. She greatly enjoys the rapport of working with extraordinary people to help tell their stories.
BBD Team member David Smith, an award-winning reference librarian, retired in 2009 from New York Public Library’s famed Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street location after a career of more than 30 years. In 2009 the New York Public Library gave him its highest honor, the Library Lions Award, in recognition of his dedication to assisting NYPL’s users. During his time at NYPL he helped hundreds of biographers, historians, journalists, sportswriters, novelists, and scholars. He has been acknowledged in books by Adam Gopnick, Stacy Schiff, Donna Tartt, Edna O’Brien, David Halberstam, Ben Cheever, Jeremy Schaap, Nina Burleigh, Peter Carey, Marilyn Johnson, Abigail Santamaria, Garth Hallberg, Liesl Schillinger, Rebecca Skloot, David Margolick, Daniel Okrent, Sam Roberts, Nick Tosches, Ada Calhoun, and many, many more. (David is profiled in Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (Harper Collins, 2010), in the chapter titled “Gotham City.” Author, journalist and commentator Christine Whelan dubbed him “Librarian to the Stars” in 2003). David is affiliated with Biographers International Organization (BIO) and PEN America Center. In 2013 BIO gave David its annual Biblio Award, which recognizes a librarian or archivist who has made an exceptional contribution to the craft of biography. Sam Roberts profiled him in The New York Times . Based in New York City, David continues to do freelance research and maintains a network of former colleagues, librarians, archivists, and researchers.