Lucy Conn learned about Abraham Lincoln through a biography while living in Malaysia. Its just one of more than 15,000 books written about the 16th president.
Biographies tend to be written about prominent people in society, which can lead to many narratives about the same individuals, but some local authors and publishers are working to tell untold stories.
Marilyn Greenwald, a professor of journalism, has written four biographies. She said readers find the genre interesting because the books are about people who have made great accomplishments or show details of a captivating era.
She said authors are writing more about hidden figures now, but that doesn’t mean well-documented individuals can’t be revisited, especially when an author can tell little-known segments of the person’s life.
One of Greenwald’s books is about the life of Franklin W. Dixon, the author of the Hardy Boys series, because not many people know about him besides his established works of literature.
Greenwald is collaborating on a project about Eunice Carter, who struggled as the only black attorney on a team of 20 prosecutors tasked to take down Mafia boss Lucky Luciano in the 1930s.
“I like (to write about) people who aren’t super famous but are pioneers or have done interesting things,” she said.
Conn reads biographies to learn more about people who work outside of well-documented professions. Readers might enjoy biographies if they tell a good story about a person who made contributions to society on a global scale, Conn, a library support associate, said.
Ricky Huard, acquisitions editor at Ohio University Press, said the extension of the university tries to highlight lesser-known individuals through its few biography series and standalone biographies.
“We try to look at people who are famous but you’ve never heard of them, or people who should be famous,” he said. “Because we are filling a gap, some of them have really taken off.”
Biographies for Young Readers, an OU Press book series, focuses on figures often overlooked by mainstream biographies. The collection includes Dorothy Kamenshek, who played in the women’s professional baseball league during World War II, and Jerrie Mock, the first woman to fly solo around the world — two women from Ohio who made a mark on American history.
Huard said the press wants to diversify its biography selections to represent a broader range of identities other than white men.
Another book series, Ohio Short Stories of Africa, consists mostly of biographies about famous and overlooked individuals who made great strides for Africa. A few notable names are Haile Selassie, Thomas Sankara and Patrice Lumumba.
People living in America might not be familiar with many of the people written about in the Ohio Short Stories of Africa series, Huard said.
Biographies that sell and are loved by readers are often those that have name recognition, he said, but OU Press biographies try to bring people’s attention to individuals who should be acknowledged for their work.
“(Readers should) be ready to say yes to something even if it lies out of the main track of biographies that are being published because that’s where the gold might be,” Huard said.