Lessons From a Literary Craftsman

February 09, 2010

Terry TeachoutWinter Park Institute’s Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Residence, Terry Teachout, brought his stay at Rollins College to a close with a discussion of “The Biographer’s Crafty Art.”  Moderated by Gail Sinclair, executive director of the Winter Park Institute, on Feb. 3, in the Bush Auditorium, Teachout shared keen insights, intimate experiences, and expert opinions regarding the life of a professional biographer through a series of questions and answers. 

A self-described craftsman, Teachout explained that he merely applies literary tools to shape significant experiences into art forms.  “You write a book because you think you can advance a conversation,” said Teachout.  “By doing extensive research and utilizing the latest major primary source material, the biographer provides his audience with state-of-the-art scholarly knowledge.” 

 “Terry Teachout’s greatest value lies in his incredible fount of knowledge about all of the arts,” said Associate Professor of Music Daniel Crozier.

 Teachout, a former accomplished jazz bassist, has had three biographies, countless New York Times articles and reviews, and even his personal memoirs published.  During Wednesday’s event, Teachout announced to the mixed audience of students, faculty, staff, and members of the Winter Park community his upcoming, fourth biography, this one on the life of Duke Ellington. He likened the process of choosing his subject to having an epiphany.  Yet, even though Teachout writes for a living and must base his literary endeavors on the preference of a consumer market, he explained that it is important to write about someone for whom one has an interest and to build the book around points of drama in that life.    

Other seminars and presentations by Teachout over the last three weeks included jazz history and opera libretto writing discussions, lectures on the role of a theater critic, and a mixed-media presentation on his latest biography, Pops, an event which included a live band playing in the style of Louis Armstrong accompanied by rare television clips sharing a glimpse of the star’s rise to fame.  However, Teachout claims his favorite experience at Rollins was his interaction with students. 

“I greatly enjoyed sharing my knowledge with these aspiring biographers, as I have no opportunity to teach in my normal life,” Teachout said.  To those students, Teachout offered parting words of guidance. “If you are serious about being a biographer, you must dedicate yourself to reading a biography every month in order to sufficiently acquaint yourself with the form.   From there, do your research; do your homework.” 

“Rollins has thoroughly enjoyed having the wonderfully intellectual stimulation and entertainment which Terry Teachout brought to campus,” said Rollins President Lewis Duncan.  “He represents exactly what the Winter Park Institute was established to accomplish.”  Sinclair added, “We have already extended an invitation for Mr. Teachout to return.  With the engaging and interactive programming he provided this time around, he’s already garnered an audience of fans for his next visit.”

Winter Park Institute’s next Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Residence will be the renowned pianist and composer Leon Fleisher, who received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007.  He arrives on campus February 15 for a viewing of the documentary, Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story.  For a complete listing of upcoming Winter Park Institute events, please visit www.rollins.edu/wpi.

-Justin Braun (MBA class of 2011)

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