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Presented in spring, the Seymour Biography Lecture has been one of the highlights of the National Library's annual events program. This year, as we ease our way out of the long COVID-19 winter, the Library's events program is temporarily paused and we are having to mark the changing of the seasons in a very different way.
Passionately supported by Dr John Seymour and Mrs Heather Seymour AO, the first lecture was held in 2005 and, since 2009, the National Library has been very proud to be its home. Last year’s lecture was, in fact, the tenth presented by the National Library.
John and Heather are passionate supporters of the National Library and also the literary forms that we call biography, autobiography and memoir. Many of us share their passion. But John and Heather have chosen to express their interest in life writing through their support for the lecture and also for an annual scholarship. For many years now, the Seymours have supported a Summer Scholarship in Biography as part of the Library’s fellowship program for young scholars and in so doing they are helping to develop the ‘life writers’ of the future.
The Lecture provides eminent 'life writers', living in Australia and elsewhere, with an opportunity to explore the business and craft of biography, autobiography or memoir. Over the years, it has been presented by some of the great life-writers of our time, and attracted a very loyal following. If, like me, you are suffering from Seymour Lecture withdrawal or if you are wanting to explore life writing in all its variety, you can enjoy revisiting past lectures online. Here are a few of my favourites.
I was excited to meet Frances Spalding, biographer of so many members of the Bloomsbury Group, when she delivered the Seymour Biography Lecture in 2010. Her lecture explores the contract between the biographer and her subject.
Robert Dessaix was still recovering from a severe illness when he delivered the 2011 Lecture. I still remember sitting in the dark on the theatre stairs hoping he would make it through to the end - which, of course, he did! You can listen along with me as he explores how biography and memoir can bring hidden things into the light.
In his 2016 lecture, David Marr turned his gaze to the biographer, rather than the subject, asking whether they should stay safely in the shadows or take centre stage with their subjects. In doing so, he gives us an insight into why he hasn't written the biography of a big life since his life of Patrick White.
In a world slightly obsessed by politics and politicians, Judith Brett explored the lives of Alfred Deakin and Robert Menzies in her 2019 lecture. In doing so, she addressed the question of why people chose to become politicians.