Available in September 2015


The new cover for the paperback and ebook appearing on June 1, 2014

The controversial American poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925), a founding member of the Imagist group that included D. H. Lawrence and H. D., excelled as the impresario for the “new poetry” that became news across the U. S. in the years after World War I. Maligned by T. S. Eliot as the “demon saleswoman” of poetry, and ridiculed by Ezra Pound, Lowell has been treated by previous biographers as an obese, sex-starved, inferior poet who smoked cigars and made a spectacle of herself, canvassing the country on lecture tours that drew crowds in the hundreds for her electrifying performances. In fact, Lowell wrote some of the finest love lyrics of the 20th century and led a full and loving life with her constant companion, the retired actress Ada Russell. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1926. This provocative new biography, the first in forty years, restores Amy Lowell to her full humanity in an era that, at last, is beginning to appreciate the contributions of gays and lesbians to American’s cultural heritage. Drawing on newly discovered letters and papers, Rollyson’s biography finally gives this vibrant poet her due.


I have just published American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath on the 50th anniversary of her death. I welcome comments in the Discussion section about her life and work. Here is a list of the book's highlights:

The first Plath biography to benefit from the new Ted Hughes archive at the British library, which includes 41 letters from Plath and Hughes as well as other unpublished papers; new information and insight into Plath’s early reading and addiction to popular radio shows like Jack Benny, Superman, Stella Dallas, and The Shadow; new interviews with several of Plath’s friends at Smith College and with students she taught; photographs of Plath and her children published for the first time; new details about the mysterious Richard Sassoon, the only male ever to rival Ted Hughes in Plath’s imagination;
revealing discussions of the letters that Sylvia’s mother did not include in Letters Home, as well as of Aurelia’s later comments on the Plath legend in the material Aurelia deposited at Smith College; an account of a court deposition dealing with Plath’s misgivings about her decision to marry Ted Hughes; fresh statements and corrections of the biographical record from David Wevill, husband of Ted’s Hughes’s lover, Assia Wevill, and from Elizabeth Compton Sigmund (one of Plath’s Devon neighbors); startling new details about Plath’s final days and the pivotal role critic A. Alvarez played in the fraught Plath-Hughes marriage and what Plath wrote in the journal Ted Hughes “lost” or destroyed.



A biography of the great film noir actor

Dana Andrews (1909–1992) worked with distinguished directors such as John Ford, Lewis Milestone, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, William Wyler, William A. Wellman, Mervyn Le Roy, Jean Renoir, and Elia Kazan. He played romantic leads alongside the great beauties of the modern screen, including Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Greer Garson, Merle Oberon, Linda Darnell, Susan Hayward, Maureen O’Hara, and most important of all, Gene Tierney, with whom he shared five films. Retrospectives of his work often elicit high praise for an underrated actor, a master of the minimalist style. His image personified the male mask of the 1940s in clas- sic films such as Laura, Fallen Angel, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, in which he played the mas- culine ideal of steely impassivity. No comprehensive discussion of film noir can neglect his performances. He was an actor’s actor.

Here at last is the complete story of a great actor, his difficult struggle to overcome alcoholism while enjoying the accolades of his contemporaries, a successful term as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and the love of family and friends that never deserted him. Based on diaries, letters, home movies, and other documents, this biography explores the mystery of a poor boy from Texas who made his Hollywood dream come true even as he sought a life apart from the limelight and the backbiting of contemporaries jockeying for prizes and prestige. Called “one of nature’s noblemen” by fellow actor Norman Lloyd, Dana Andrews emerges from Hollywood Enigma as an admirable American success story, fighting his inner demons and ultimately winning.



My biography of former Labour Party leader, Michael Foot, has just gone through copyediting. No book publication date yet.

A revised and updated edition, publisher and publication date to be announced shortly


A University of Toronto Ph.D, Rollyson has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His work has been reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times and the London Sunday Telegraph and in journals such as American Literature and the Dictionary of Literary Biography. For four years (2003-2007) he wrote a weekly column, "On Biography," for The New York Sun and was President of the Rebecca West Society (2003-2007). His play, That Woman: Rebecca West Remembers, has been produced at Theatresource in New York City. Rollyson's biography of Amy Lowell was awarded a "We the People" NEH grant. Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews was published by University Press of Mississippi in September 2012. His biography, American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, was published on January 29, 2013. His reviews of biography have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Kansas City Star, The Barnes & Noble Review, and The New Criterion. His column, "Biographology," appeared in bibliobuffet.com. He is currently advisory editor for the Hollywood Legends series published by the University Press of Mississippi. He welcomes queries from those interested in contributing to the series. His forthcoming projects include Marilyn Day by Day, a documentary biography of Marilyn Monroe for Scarecrow Press, and biographies of Walter Brennan and William Faulkner.


"Carl Rollyson knows more about biographies than anyone else in the world. His independent mind, his experience, and his voracious reading have equipped him to produce amazing insights into the reading -- and writing -- of biographies.
--Ann Waldron, author of Eudora: A Writer’s Life and Close Connections: Caroline Gordon and the Southern Literary Renaissance

"Carl Rollyson is to biography what Boswell was to Johnson: indispensable. An excellent biographer himself, Rollyson is also the finest critic of the art as well as a thoroughly delightful guide to the pleasures of reading biography and the perils of writing it."
--Patricia O’Toole, author of The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends and When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House

"With his high-powered and perceptive page-turners on Lillian Hellman, Rebecca West, Martha Gellhorn and Susan Sontag, Carl Rollyson has shown himself to be amongst the very first rank of contemporary biographical practitioners.
--Roger Lewis, author of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (book and Emmy and Golden Globe Award Winning HBO movie), The Real Life of Laurence Olivier, and Anthony Burgess

"For anyone mad enough to write a biography, this witty, definitive book [Biography: A User's Guide] is absolutely essential reading. For anyone who merely loves reading biography, it’s a smashing insider’s guide. Mr. Rollyson is informed and passionate and fun about a subject he knows intimately. He’s also unafraid to let his personal opinions show, thank goodness. In short, he’s written a wonderfully entertaining biography about the art of biography."
--John Heilpern, New York Observer


A Carl Rollyson Bookshelf

Caricature in Gay & Lesbian Review of Amy Lowell Anew

Moon Pies: One of Amy Lowell's favorite desserts, served to me at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I gave a talk about my biography and Lowell's letters about her lover, Elizabeth Seccombe. Their letters can be found in the Robert Grovsnor Valentine Papers.

The American Isis paperback will be published March 4, 2014.

Sylvia Plath's house in Wellesley, where she grew up.

Norman Rockwell's portrait of Walter Brennan

Where Walter Brennan grew up. I took this picture of the town sign while doing research for a biography of this great actor.

Taken at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, where I was doing work in the papers of Walter Brennan.

Inside is the Margaret Herrick Library, where I did research for biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Dana Andrews, and Walter Brennan.

Selected Works: Click on titles for reviews

A documentary approach to the life and legend. With details of her childhood, her young adult years, her ascent to superstardom, and the hour by hour moments leading to her tragic early death, this volume supplements—and, in some cases, corrects—the accounts of previous biographies.
A riveting examination of Amy Lowell’s private life and lover, Ada Russell, who did so much to make Lowell’s career possible The startling discovery of a new Amy Lowell lover who perished on the Lusitania. A compelling window into Lowell’s gregarious character. Concise readings of Lowell’s most important poems reveal the depth and range of her erotic imagination. An astute analysis of the way biographers and critics have maligned Lowell as a person and poet.
A revisionist view of the poet, her fellow writers, and their biographers
A biography of the great film noir actor.
Here, at last, is the true story of Sylvia Plath's last days and her estate's efforts to shape her husband's role in her death and the world's understanding of Plath and her work. Here, too, is a new Sylvia Plath, immersed in popular culture and proto-feminism, presaging the way we live now.
The first biography that truly shows the actress at work.-- Ellen Burstyn Forthcoming in a new edition from University Press of Mississippi.
America's most controversial radical playwright
The first biography of Gellhorn, relying on key archival sources and interviews with her friends and associates.
Delves beneath the surface to examine the forces that made Sontag an international icon, exploring her public persona and private passions, including the strategies behind her meteoric rise to fame and her political moves.
The first book to survey the broad range of Sontag's work.
Twenty-five years of writing about female icons and biography.
The standard biography of one of the 20th century's greatest prose stylists
The first book to explore the entire corpus of her extraordinary career.
Religion, politics, and the writing of biographies.
Filmmaker, feminist,, wife--a twentieth century woman.
The first literary biography of Norman Mailer, updated and revised
Essays in Biography is a play on words conveying an attempt to explore the nature of biography in pieces about the history of the genre and in portrayals of biographers (Plutarch, Leon Edel, and W. A. Swanberg), literary figures (Lillian Hellman, Jack London), philosophers and critics (Leo Strauss and Hippolyte Taine), political figures (Winston Churchill and Napoleon), and artists (Rembrandt and Rubens).
For those addicted to reading biography, enhancing their pleasure by providing insight (or you might say, the inside word) on how biographies are put together.
Provocative reviews of American subjects, originally appearing in The New York Sun.
A candid and revealing account, by an expert in the minefield of the biographer’s contentious work
A terrific companion for biography writers and lovers.-- James McGrath Morris, editor of the monthly "The Biographer's Craft"

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